Summary: The Chow Laboratory creates input/output interfaces to cells, by inventing new technologies to manipulate and monitor their physiology in intact biological circuits. Our research primarily focuses on the discovery and engineering of novel photoreceptors and sensory proteins, and their applications as cell-expressible tools for revealing the principles that govern the dynamic regulation of cellular systems. We are currently focused on:
• Minimally Invasive Genetically Encoded Tools: We engineer novel photosensory proteins as optogenetic tools that, when heterologously expressed in genetically targeted cells, enable their physiology to be controlled and monitored with light. We seek to (i) expand the palette of biochemical manipulations in order to enable the functional diversity of pharmacological and genetic approaches, but with the spatio-temporal precision of devices, (ii) optimize their performance in the mammalian milieu, and (iii) expand the toolbox to respond to other forms of electromagnetic radiation with greater penetration depths.
• Functional Diversity of Photoreception: Photoreceptors are light-activated protein machines that initiate signaling events in complex biological circuits. They are critical to behavior (e.g. circadian rhythms, phototaxis) and metabolism (e.g. photosynthesis), and thus, their study informs how organisms adapt to environmental changes and/or sustain life. We generate both genotype by next-generation sequencing, and phenotype by protein biochemistry, in order to enhance our basic science understanding of photoreceptor native physiological roles and structure-function relationships (i.e. what they do, and how they work).
• Applications in Neuroscience and Mammalian Synthetic Biology: Biological systems are organized in complex circuitry at all integration levels, spanning from molecules (e.g. signaling pathways and transcriptional networks) to cells (e.g. neural and immune circuits) to organisms (e.g. systems physiology). We apply our technologies to reverse- and forward-engineer neural circuits and synthetic biological circuits in mammalian cells, in hopes of unraveling principles of cellular dynamics.
Philosophy: We freely share tools, collaborate with broad scientific communities, and keep attuned to entrepreneurial opportunities for widespread deployment.
Funding and Resources: Our laboratory would like to thank the generous support of present sponsors (listed alphabetically): National Science Foundation (NSF/MCB CAREER), National Institutes of Health (NIH/NINDS R01, NIH/NIDA CEBRA R21, BRAIN Initiative R21), and the Penn University Research Foundation (URF). Students are further supported by: NSF GRFP, Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship, and the Thai Ministry of Science and Technology.
The lab has previously been funded by (listed alphabetically): Brain Research Foundation (BRF), Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), National Science Foundation (NSF/CBET), Penn Medicine Neuroscience Center (PMNC), and W.W. Charitable Trust for the Heart. Students have been further supported by: NIH/NINDS T32 Training Program, NSF GRFP.
International Genetic Engineered Machine (iGEM): To support undergraduate innovation, we host Penn’s iGEM team each year. iGEM is the world’s largest student competition in synthetic biology. The program runs from late-May to mid-Fall every year, and any Penn undergraduate may apply (by January). This program is generously supported by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research and the Department of Bioengineering.