Sam conducted his PhD research in the field of DNA nanotechnology and DNA computing, working in Rebecca Schulman’s group at Johns Hopkins. He developed synthetic transcription-based networks with dynamics programmed via Watson-Crick base pairing rules. These in vitro networks emulated key functionalities of cellular genetic regulatory networks and thus could serve as a programmable “synthetic genome” for controlling nucleic acid materials and devices, such as DNA nanostructures and DNA-responsive hydrogels. The goal of his research was to engineer synthetic materials capable of sophisticated behaviors seen in biology including hierarchical differentiation or self-healing.
As a National Research Council (NRC) postdoctoral fellow at NIST, Sam is interested in moving DNA computing circuits from the test tube to living cells. Current DNA-based circuits are only single use and suffer from degradation in vivo, limiting their practical applications. To overcome these limitations, Sam’s current research focuses on transcriptionally encoding RNA-based circuits, equivalent to those developed in DNA computing, that can operate continuously inside living cells. These circuits could be programmed to recognize complex differential gene expression patterns in real-time in vivo, potentially enabling a new class of living measurement systems.