Huimin Zhao, UIUC


Challenges and Opportunities at the Nexus of Synthetic Biology, Machine Learning, and Automation



Inspired by the exponential growth of the microelectronic industry, Zhao's lab has been attempting to build a biofoundry that integrates biology, automation and artificial intelligence (AI)/machine learning for rapid prototyping and manufacturing of biological systems for synthesis of bioproducts ranging from chemicals to materials to therapeutic agents. In this talk, Zhao will discuss the challenges and opportunities at the nexus of synthetic biology, machine learning, and automation and highlight a few of our accomplishments and the recently launched NSF AI research institute for molecular synthesis. Specifically, Zhao will introduce three interconnected stories, including: (1) development of the Illinois Biological Foundry for Advanced Biomanufacturing (iBioFAB) for next-generation synthetic biology applications; (2) development of genome-scale engineering tools for rapid metabolic engineering applications, and (3) integration of biocatalysis and chemical catalysis for synthesis of value-added chemicals, which necessitates the development of AI-enabled synthesis planning and catalyst design tools.  


Dr. Huimin Zhao is the Steven L. Miller Chair of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and professor of chemistry, biochemistry, biophysics, and bioengineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC).

He received his B.S. degree in Biology from the University of Science and Technology of China in 1992 and his Ph.D. degree in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1998 under the guidance of Nobel Laureate Dr. Frances Arnold.  Prior to joining UIUC in 2000, he was a project leader at the Industrial Biotechnology Laboratory of the Dow Chemical Company. He was promoted to full professor in 2008. Dr. Zhao has authored and co-authored over 350 research articles and over 30 issued and pending patent applications with several being licensed by industry. In addition, he has given over 390 plenary, keynote, or invited lectures. Twenty-five (25) of his former graduate students and postdocs are pursuing academic careers. Dr. Zhao received numerous research and teaching awards and honors. His primary research interests are in the development and applications of synthetic biology and machine learning tools to address society’s most daunting challenges in health, energy, and sustainability, and in the fundamental aspects of enzyme catalysis, cell metabolism, gene regulation, and cell differentiation. He is an associate editor of ACS Catalysis and director of NSF AI Research Institute for Molecular Synthesis.