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Promotion Colloquium – Professor Magdy Mahfouz

Abstract

New technologies can help us address the challenges facing humanity, including food security, sustainable agriculture and emerging diseases. In my laboratory, we develop and apply genome engineering and synthetic biology approaches and harness engineering and evolution principles to design and build genetic networks and thus engineer organisms with improved traits for key applications. This includes crop improvement, biomanufacturing and diagnostics. In my talk, I will provide examples of our technological advances in these key areas. 

First, I will highlight the contributions of my laboratory in developing and adapting genome engineering machineries (transcription activator-like effector site-specific nucleases and CRISPR-Cas systems) for precision genome editing and regulation, engineering plant immunity to destructive viruses and rewriting the genome for targeted trait engineering.

Second, I will highlight our research on establishing synthetic directed evolution to unlock trait engineering and improvement, describing how we use CRISPR enzymes to develop technologies for localized sequence diversification to evolve, discover, expand and expedite improving and developing traits of interest.

Third, I will describe our work using CRISPR enzymes to develop point-of-care diagnostics for emerging diseases, including SARS-CoV-2, discussing our efforts to engineer existing CRISPR-Cas enzymes, build chimeric CRISPR enzymes and discover novel CRISPR enzymes to build modules for point-of-care SARS-CoV2 diagnostics that can be reprogrammed to detect multiple pathogens.

Specifically, I will discuss how we developed CRISPR-Dx technologies including iSCAN, VIGILANT, BioSCAN and OPTIMA-dx to enable sensitive and specific SARS-CoV2 diagnostics. Following this wide-ranging exploration of cutting-edge technologies, I will close by discussing my future research plans.

About the speaker

Professor Magdy Mahfouz received his Ph.D. in molecular genetics from The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, USA. He subsequently conducted his industry-funded postdoctoral studies in microbiology at the College of Medicine, University of Illinois at Chicago, focusing on identifying anticancer cell-penetrating peptide molecules from microbial sources. Mahfouz is an Associate Professor of Bioengineering, Plant Science and Bioscience at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia. 

Mahfouz is the principal investigator of the Laboratory for Genome Engineering and Synthetic Biology. His research group focuses on developing genome engineering and synthetic biology technologies and applications for crop bioengineering, biomanufacturing and diagnostics. His laboratory employs molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, microbiology and nanoscience approaches to develop disruptive technologies for rewriting genome sequences for trait engineering, biosensing of nucleic acids of pathogens or disease markers, as well as other analytes, and the use of plants as a chassis for molecular biomanufacturing of select chemicals and therapeutics.

He developed key technologies for plant genome engineering, engineering plant immunity, and synthetic directed evolution of plant traits, as well as novel enzymes and approaches for pathogen diagnostics. He authored and co-authored more than 87 publications and seven pending or issued patent applications. He has given invited talks at the leading genome engineering and synthetic biology conferences.
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