With the Researcher Spotlight, the Microbial Systems Initiative aims to introduce you to the breadth and diversity of research interests and potential growth opportunities at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. We hope that by highlighting both the researchers and their research, we can help you to learn more about and connect with your colleagues to enhance multidisciplinary research and education in microbial sciences here at Illinois.
Ting Lu, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Bioengineering
Ting Lu, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Bioengineering. He also has affiliate appointments with the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, and the Carle Illinois College of Medicine.
Before joining the faculty at Illinois, he completed a doctorate in biophysics at the University of California at San Diego. Research in the Lu Research Lab is primarily focused on the analysis, modeling, and construction of bacterial gene circuits for uncovering biological design principles and advancing biotechnological applications.
What is your research in microbial systems about?
My research program aims to understand the organizational rules of microbial communities and to utilize these rules to engineer synthetic microbial ecosystems for biotechnological and medical applications.
How are you conducting your research?
We use an integrated approach that combines experimental synthetic biology with mathematical modeling. To advance our understanding of microbial communities, we use rationally designed artificial ecosystems as our experimental models due to their simplicity and controllability. Meanwhile, we employ mathematical tools to capture the behaviors of synthetic consortia and further to generalize our findings for a systematic understanding. Toward applications, we design, build, and optimize microbial ecosystems to perform desired functions for medical and biotechnological purposes.
How does being a part of the Illinois community support and enhance your research?
Illinois has significant impacts on the history of microbiology and a long-standing culture of collaboration. Being a part of the Illinois community is extremely helpful for my program development. In particular, the breadth of research in microbial systems across campus allows me to seek advice and help, identify complementary expertise, and establish collaborations.
How will your research or work improve society or reach people?
Our research will benefit the society in two ways. First, it will allow us to create custom-tailored, functional probiotics which could serve as therapeutics and food supplements for human health. Second, our research involves the development of efficient and reliable fermentation strategies, which helps to create a sustainable, eco-friendly solution for chemical synthesis.
Do you have a personal story to share or path that led to your interest in this area of study?
I am a physicist by training but have always been fascinated with biology. During my graduate study, I was intrigued by bacterial gene regulation, a process that turns gene expression on and off, and also by the power of physics in describing the seemingly unconnected process. The excitement also led me to learn synthetic biology—the design and construction of engineered regulatory circuits—in postdoctoral training. At Illinois, I combine multidisciplinary tools to decode and eventually program the communal behaviors of microbes.