Promotion Colloquium – Professor Christian Froekjaer Jensen
part of the current promotion cycle of the University, Professor Christian Froekjaer Jensen is being considered for promotion to Associate Professor of Bioscience. A requirement of the promotion process is to give a
technical colloquium. This colloquium will provide interesting insights
into the research interests and achievements of Prof. Froekjaer Jensen
Synthetic biology is a nascent scientific field that aims to apply engineering principles to biological systems, with early successes in producing anti-malarial medicine and reprogramming immune cells to fight cancer. Engineering living systems also has the potential to uncover fundamental biological principles. However, the ability to modify the fundamental software of organisms, the genetic code, is currently limited by our ability to "write" synthetic DNA and generate complex lines of code. For example, creating fully synthetic genomes is possible but remains a monumental undertaking limited to single-cell organisms such as bacteria and yeast.
In the past decade, my research has focused on developing foundational genetic engineering and software tools to engineer C. elegans, perhaps the simplest multicellular genetic model organism. In just two days, the animal undergoes a deterministic developmental program resulting in adults with exactly 959 somatic cells. 302 of these cells are neurons, and the nervous system is characterized in remarkable detail: every neuronal connection and gene expression profile is known. C. elegans is thus particularly well-suited for understanding gene expression programs and a simple neural network using biological engineering.
I will present our progress over the past five years in modifying the genome, generating artificial chromosomes from synthetic DNA pools, and scalable methods for perturbing every gene in C. elegans, allowing biological engineering on a scale not previously possible. We have used these tools to gain novel insights into how large parts of the non-coding genome are derived from a selfish gene and used as "watermarks" to prevent inherited epigenetic silencing of the organism's genes. My laboratory is currently focused on developing massively parallel reporter assays with the aim of using machine-learning algorithms to understand the basic regulatory grammar of gene expression.
Prof. Christian Froekjaer Jensen obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. He trained as a postdoc with Prof. Erik Jorgensen at the University of Utah and with Prof. Andrew Fire at Stanford University, USA. In 2017, he joined the KAUST Environmental Epigenetics Program (KEEP) as an Assistant Professor of Bioscience. He is a member of KAUST Smart Health Initiative and an associate member of the Bioengineering program. His research group at KAUST, the laboratory for Synthetic Genome Biology, is focused on developing foundational technologies for genetic engineering in C. elegans, and has distributed reagents to over 800 laboratories at more than 450 universities.