The Physics of Genes and the Promise of Personalized Medicine

The Physics of Genes and the Promise of Personalized Medicine

The Physics of Genes and the Promise of Personalized Medicine


November 17, 2016 - 6:00pm to 7:00pm


Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons




University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign


Inquiring Minds Public Lecture

The twenty-first century is poised to see dramatic advances in medicine. The rapid progress in understanding the molecular causes of disease and the emergence of new treatment strategies are fueled by the development of physical instruments that can characterize biological processes at extreme resolution and provide the means to harness biological systems for technological uses. One common target of such investigations is DNA, which, after water and oxygen, is the most famous molecule of life known. This is not surprising, as the eye-catching double helix of DNA carries instructions to manufacture and assemble all the components of a living organism. The wealth of information encoded in DNA often overshadows its unusual physical properties, for example, the possibility of an effective attraction between same-charge DNA molecules regulated by their nucleotide sequence. Furthermore, the methods used to determine the informational content of DNA—its nucleotide sequence—until now relied on biological processes. In this lecture, I will describe our recent efforts to characterize the physical properties of DNA and determine their role in orchestrating the function of a biological cell. I will demonstrate how the physical properties of DNA can be used to build a physics-based reader of the DNA sequence. Finally, I will describe how recent advances in the field of DNA nanobiotechnology are paving the way to personalized medicine.