Active projects in the Tabor lab, which are supported by an NSF Early Career Development (CAREER) award, a Young Investigator Award by the Office of Naval Research, and grant from the Welch Foundation, have led to his discovery of the first TCS sensor/biomarker linked to gut inflammation and the development of novel bacterial sensors for the engineering of a probiotic E. coli that could diagnose and treat obesity, Crohn’s disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer in the gastrointestinal tract.
This work is also resulting in improved mathematical models of gene circuit performance, and allowing for more advanced biological behaviors to be engineered. Custom light input/light output hardware is being combined with optogenetic tools to characterize genetic devices in a wide range of contexts with unprecedented accuracy, precision, and throughput.
Since coming to Rice in 2010, Tabor’s work at the interface of synthetic chemistry and molecular/cell biology has led to more than 30 peer-reviewed journal publications and five patent applications. Additional awards he has received include a Collaborative Research Award from the John S. Dunn Foundation (2016), a Michel Systems Biology Innovation Award (2013), a Hamill Innovation Award (2011) by Rice’s Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering, and a National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI) award (2009).
Tabor is an affiliated investigator of the NSF Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (SynBERC), a member of the editorial board of ACS Synthetic Biology, and has served on an NIH study section and five NSF panels. He also co-organized Synthetic Biology 5.0 – the leading conference in the field.
Jeff Tabor programs living cells to sense and respond to stimuli in the environment with applications in medicine, biotechnology, environmental monitoring, and fundamental science. A particular focus of his lab is developing new technologies to study bacterial two-component systems (TCSs) and repurpose them for biomedical applications. For example, his group has repurposed bacterial TCSs that sense light as new tools for optogenetics. They have used these light sensors to program gene expression across space and time, and to characterize how genetic circuits process dynamical signals. His lab has also discovered TCSs that sense disease biomarkers in environmental bacteria and the human microbiome and used them to engineer diagnostic gut bacteria. Recently, they developed a method to modularly swap the DNA-binding domains of TCS response regulators. They have used DBD-swapping to port uncharacterized TCSs into evolutionarily distant host bacteria and discover their inputs. Recently, the Tabor lab has expanded their focus to TCSs that regulate virulence and antimicrobial resistance in human pathogens. In particular, they are developing new synthetic biology technologies to discover antimicrobial peptides sensed by these systems, and to develop new molecular inhibitors that could be developed into next-generation antimicrobial drugs.