Much like hacking a computer, Ahmad ‘Mo’ Khalil hacks nature and the microscopic biological systems that make all life possible. In his lab at Boston University, Khalil, associate director of BU’s Biological Design Center (BDC) and College of Engineering associate professor of biomedical engineering, has created entire cell colonies capable of being programmed to perform tasks, from eliminating cancer cells to making new classes of drug compounds, all by mimicking cellular systems that have evolved over the course of many millennia. Now, Khalil has been awarded the 2020 Vannevar Bush Faculty Fellowship-the Department of Defense’s most prestigious award for a single investigator-to explore how cells are capable of passing “memories” down to the next generation of offspring cells, a dynamic known as epigenetic memory.
With his work supported by the fellowship, Khalil will discover how to manipulate epigenetic memory in cells to program self-assembling biological materials, like tissue and other cellular structures. The Brink caught up with Khalil to learn more about his research plans.