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Domitilla Del Vecchio, Ph.D.

Department of Mechanical Engineering
Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS)
Assistant Professor

Room – 3-455B
(617)452-2275 (phone)


Laurea, Electrical Engineering, University of Rome, Tor Vergata, 1999
Ph.D., Control and Dynamical Systems, Caltech, 2005

Research Summary

Our group works on fundamental theory and experiments on the analysis and design of biomolecular feedback systems. In particular, we adopt a control theory approach to investigate problems of modularity, retroactivity, and insulation in biomolecular networks.

The past decade has seen tremendous advances in the fields of Systems and Synthetic Biology to the point that de novo creation of simple biomolecular networks, or “circuits”, in living organisms to control their behavior has become a reality. A near future is envisioned in which re-engineered bacteria will turn waste into energy and kill cancer cells in ill patients. To meet this vision, one key challenge must be tackled, namely designing biomolecular networks that can realize substantially more complex functionalities than those currently available. A promising approach to analyzing or designing complex networks is to modularly connect simple components whose behavior can be isolated from that of the surrounding modules. The assumption underlying this approach is that the behavior of a component does not change upon interconnection. This is often taken for granted in fields such as electrical engineering, in which insulating amplifiers enforce modular behavior by suppressing impedance effects. This triggers the fundamental question of whether a modular approach is viable in biomolecular circuits. We address this research question by investigating impedance-like effects, called retroactivity, at the interconnection of biomolecular systems. Concurrently, we apply and extend feedback control theory to determine design principles at the basis of biomolecular insulation devices, which suppress retroactivity and enforce modularity. Along with our theoretical investigations, we perform key experiments in living cells to quantify the effects of retroactivity in a number of different networks. Similarly, we realize the design principles for insulation through concrete biomolecular implementations, which we fabricate and also test in living cells.

Selected Publications

  • H. R. Ossareh, A. C. Ventura, S. D. Merajver, and D. Del Vecchio. Long Signaling Cascades Tend to Attenuate Retroactivity. Biophysical Journal, To Appear, 2011.
  • S. Jayanthi and D. Del Vecchio. Retroactivity Attenuation in Bio-molecular Systems Based on Timescale Separation. IEEE Trans. on Automatic Control, DOI: 10.1109/TAC.2010.2069631, 2010.
  • A. C. Ventura, P. Jiang, L. Van Wassenhove, D. Del Vecchio, S. D. Merajver, and A. J. Ninfa. The signaling properties of a covalent modification cycle are altered by a downstream target. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci.107(22), pages10032-10037, 2010
  • D. Del Vecchio, A. J. Ninfa, and E. D. Sontag. Modular Cell Biology: Retroactivity and Insulation. Molecular Systems Biology, 4:161, 2008

Last Updated: March 3, 2011