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The Levinson Emerging Scholars Program

Bennett Ng - Bioengineering & Computer Engineering

Bennett NgHaving cultivated an interest in computer technology since childhood, Bennett Ng discovered a passion for bioengineering during his junior year of high school. As an intern at Seattle BioMed, he gained first-hand experience with infectious disease research, and found a humanitarian purpose to guide his interest in computing. These experiences led him to become a student in the UW Department of Bioengineering, where he quickly joined Herbert Sauro’s synthetic biology lab to continue pursuing student research. As a sophomore, Bennett conducted computational research to elucidate optimal design targets in biochemical networks. Now as a senior, he is synergizing his interdisciplinary interests to develop a low-cost, open-source chemostat device in the Sauro lab. The device could enable and accelerate evolutionary stability experiments which are essential to the advancement of synthetic biology. Bennett is a dual-major in Bioengineering and Computer Engineering. Outside of the lab, he is actively involved as an officer for the Biomedical Engineering Society and Bioengineers Without Borders. He plans to pursue graduate study and a career in biotechnology industry.

Mentor: Herbert Sauro, Bioengineering

Project Title: Design of a Modular, Integrated Growth and Measurement System for the Extended Characterization of Biological Parts

Abstract: A key issue in synthetic biology is the evolutionary robustness of synthetic circuits. Creation of robust circuits requires the development of design criteria to extend evolutionary timescales, and insight into the relative evolutionary fitness of different circuit designs. Experimentally, this research requires the use of multiple cell culture runs that are time-consuming and laborious. To accelerate this work, development of a high-throughput, automated, and parallel mini-chemostat and turbidostat device is proposed.

While the development of nutrient-replenishing chemostat devices dates back to 1950, and the usage of such devices is well-documented, even modern chemostats are not well-suited to evolutionary experiments. Current designs face significant issues of equipment fouling, specialized complexity, and prohibitive cost. Presently there is a lack of cost-effective options for highly parallel milliliter-scale chemostat devices which can be applied to problems in synthetic biology.

The proposed device will be small and modular, utilizing multiple standard petri dishes for parallel culture experiments. The design will feature integrated media refreshment and temperature control mechanisms. Visible and fluorescent direct-view, real-time imaging systems will be included. The device will be constructed of readily-available parts to maintain low cost. Parts will be modular such that used petri dishes can be easily removed, disposed of, and replaced. The design will be scalable such that numerous devices can be stacked or tiled for parallel experiments. An open-source software package and electronic microcontroller system will be developed to allow for automated real-time measurement and customization of growth and measurement parameters.