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Quantitative, Kinetic Models of Cellular Circuits

Event Date: February 4, 2009
Speaker: Professor Michael Brent
Speaker Affiliation: Washington University
Sponsor: CE Area Seminar
Time: 12:00 NOON
Location: EE 118
Contact Name: Prof J. Siskind
Contact Phone: 765-49-63197
Contact Email:

Living cells contain complex, analog circuits that regulate the rate at which each gene produces its product. The kinetic properties of these circuits enable cells to respond to changes in their environments and thus to survive, reproduce, and compete. For decades, molecular biologists have been successfully diagramming these circuits, but the process has, by and large, been both painstaking and qualitative. New, “high-throughput” experimental technologies hold the potential for efficiently reverse engineering large parts of a cell’s circuitry. In this talk, I will describe some methods that attempt to do this and assess where we stand with respect to the potential for efficient mapping of cellular circuits. I will argue that fully automated methods based on high-throughput experiments and machine learning are not ready for prime time, but medium-throughput methods for converting static, qualitative models into kinetic, quantitative models are. As an example, I will present new work on modeling the circuitry by which brewer’s yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, responds to changes in the concentration of extracellular glucose. Quantitative models of sugar utilization may ultimately light the way to efficient fuel production from biomass, and Saccharomyces cerevisiae may well be the cell for the job.


Michael Brent earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics in 1985 and a Ph.D. in computer science in 1991 from MIT. He then served as Assistant and Associate Professor of Cognitive Science at the Johns Hopkins University, where his research focused on computational models aimed at explaining how children learn language. He brought these interests to the Department of Computer Science at Washington University in 1999, where he developed a second research program in computational biology. In 2006 he was named the Henry Edwin Sever Professor of Engineering.