Student Spotlight

Synthetic Biology Group: Robert Citorik


Hometown, Country:
Kingston, NH, USA

Academic history prior to coming to MIT:
B.S. in Microbiology at UNH

What brought you to MIT?
I studied the basic science behind different bacterial pathogens at UNH and for three years in the infectious disease department at Mass General Hospital. After this experience, I decided to add an engineering component to my research and MIT seemed an ideal institution for this new skill. I found the work coming from Tim Lu’s lab to be especially exciting and this also had a strong influence on my choice for graduate school.

What problem are you trying to solve with your current research and what are some possible applications?
I’ve always been interested in bacteria that have gained the capacity to cause disease. A specific problem that is of great concern is the rise in occurrence of antibiotic-resistant infections, which has been occurring concomitantly with a drop in the number of new antibiotics entering the market. One of the areas of focus in the Lu Lab is using synthetic biology to engineer bacteriophages, or naturally occurring viruses that infect bacteria, as next-generation therapeutics. We have been working to generate targeted therapies that recognize and kill only harmful bacteria based on whether they contain certain genes. We ultimately hope to have platforms that enable more rapid methods for creating and tuning new antimicrobials to better keep up in the arms race against resistant bacteria.

What interests you most about your research?
It’s incredibly fulfilling to work in an area like human health, where I can easily see the motivation for my research. Antibiotic resistance is a very real issue and it’s exciting to be working towards a better understanding of the problem and searching for novel solutions, as well as to see some of the great research emerging in the field as we work towards giving it the attention that it deserves. MIT and the Boston/Cambridge area provide easy access to new technology and extremely intelligent scientists, and it’s a perfect place to be training during our day’s biological revolution!

What are your future plans?
In the immediate future, I am continuing to work on developing and optimizing our antimicrobial platforms to make them useful against a wider range of bacteria. I’m open to different possibilities once I finish my PhD in the Microbiology Program here at MIT, but would ultimately like to be involved in both academia and industry, where I can teach and perform research carrying the benefit of remaining closely tied with application.

Learn more about the Synthetic Biology Group led by Professor Tim Lu >>