Zibo Chen

From: Hangzhou, China
Category: Cell and Molecular Biology
Title of essay:Creating the protein version of DNA base pairing: Programmable and modular protein-protein interactions designed from scratch


Zibo Chen grew up in Hangzhou, China and received his PhD in Biochemistry from the University of Washington in Seattle. During his doctoral research, Zibo programmed de novo designed proteins to have DNA-like specificity, and assembled them into biological circuits that operate inside living cells. He is currently a postdoc scholar at the California Institute of Technology, working on programming cells using modular protein tools. His research interest centers on the precise control of molecular and cellular interactions for therapeutic applications. Outside of the lab, he enjoys travelling, flying drones, and piloting small airplanes.


When scientists design DNA primers for molecular coning, they simply take a look at the target sequence and write down its reverse complement counterpart. This is made possible by the modular specificity code of DNA: A binds to T, and C binds to G. Proteins, however, do not have such specificity code which makes the design of protein-protein interactions challenging. This essay describes a way to achieve DNA-like programmable specificity in proteins via computational design, which extends to the creation of a large set of orthogonal protein heterodimers, protein-based logic gates that operate in living cells, and lego-like proteins that self-assemble into two-dimensional materials.