David McMillen

David McMillen

David McMillen | Associate Professor
BASc, MASc, PhD (Toronto)

Main Appointments

  • Department of Chemical & Physical Sciences, University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM)

Additional Appointments

  • Department of Cell & Systems Biology
  • Department of Physics
  • Institute of Biomaterials & Biomedical Engineering

Contact Information

Department of Chemical & Physical Sciences
University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM)

Mailing: 3359 Mississauga Road North, Mississauga, Ontario L5L 1C6
Office: DV 4056

+1 905 828-5353 (office)
david.mcmillen@utoronto.ca (email)
Synthetic Biology & Cellular Control Laboratory (web)


Research Theme

Research Interests

The Synthetic Biology and Cellular Control lab works on two broad topics: synthetic biology (design and construction of novel cellular devices in living cells, to alter and control their behaviour) and systems biology (the dynamics and behaviour of cells and cellular networks).

To date, our own wet lab work is exclusively in microorganisms (bacteria and yeast) and we are pursuing mammalian cell work through collaboration.  The rapidly growing field of synthetic biology represents an effort to implement engineering at the cellular level.

We are developing novel regulatory network architectures and new biological “parts” to accomplish a variety of goals. Often our work takes the form of simple proof-of-concept demonstrations, but we are increasingly interested in the potential of synthetic biology to address real-world issues.

We are actively engaging with private and public sector partners to learn about key problems that we can use as inspiration for our research direction.

Examples of applied projects include efforts at developing systems to: detect disease microorganisms and respond to counter them; develop robust microorganism-based biosensors for blood assays; and designing sense-and-respond bacteria to ameliorate inflammatory bowel disease.

Our experimental work is accompanied and guided by systems biological modelling at various levels, from detailed biochemical kinetic models (stochastic or deterministic) to higher-level approaches inspired by control theory.

Select Publications

Edouard A. Harris, Alla Buzina, Jason Moffat, and David R. McMillen (2017). Design and experimental validation of small activating RNAs targeting an exogenous promoter in human cells. DOI: 10.1021/acssynbio.6b00125

Zhe F. Tang and David R. McMillen (2016).  Design principles for the analysis and construction of robustly homeostatic biological networks.  Journal of Theoretical Biology 408: 274-289.

Edouard A. Harris, Eun Jee Koh, Jason Moffat, and David R. McMillen (2016).  Automated inference procedure for the determination of cell growth parameters.  Physical Review E 93: 012402.

Mostafizur Mazumder, Katherine E. Brechun, Yongjoo B. Kim, Stefan A. Hoffmann, Yih Yang Chen, Carrie-Lynn Keiski, Katja M. Arndt, David R. McMillen and G. Andrew Woolley (McMillen and Woolley, co-senior authors) (2015).  An E. coli system for evolving improved light-controlled DNA-binding proteins.  Protein Engineering, Design, and Selection 28 (9): 293-302.

Mostafizur Mazumder and David R. McMillen (2014).  Design and characterization of a dual-mode promoter with activation and repression capability for tuning gene expression in yeast.  Nucleic Acids Research 42 (14): 9514–9522.

Jordan Ang, Edouard Harris, Brendan J. Hussey, Richard Kil, and David R. McMillen (2013).  Tuning response curves for synthetic biology.  ACS Synthetic Biology 2: 547−567.

Jordan Ang and David R. McMillen (2013).  Physical constraints on biological integral control design for homeostasis and sensory adaptation.  Biophysical Journal 104: 505-515.

Sangram Bagh, Mahuya Mandal, and David R. McMillen (2011).  An active intracellular device to prevent lethal viral effects in bacteria.   Biotechnology and Bioengineering 108(3): 645-654.

Sangram Bagh, Mahuya Mandal, and David R. McMillen (2010).  Minimal genetic device with multiple tunable functions.  Physical Review E 82(2): 021911.

Sangram Bagh and David R. McMillen (2010).  A synthetic genetic circuit whose signal-response curve is temperature-tunable from band-detection to sigmoidal behaviour.  Natural Computing 9: 991-1006.