Michael Rust Lab

Michael Rust

Institute for Genomics and Systems Biology
The University of Chicago
900 East 57th Street
KCBD 10124
Chicago, IL 60637

Phone: (773)-834-1463

About the Lab

My lab is interested in understanding how the properties of living cells emerge from the stochastic reactions of molecular components. We use a mixture of biophysical, biochemical, genomic, mathematical modeling, and single-cell microscopy approaches to link the properties of molecules to the systems-level behavior of cells. Most of our attention is currently focused on an oscillatory protein network found in the cyanobacterium Synechococcus elongates that the organism uses to predict the time of day. Remarkably, the biological rhythms generated by this circadian clock can be reconstituted in a test tube using three purified protein components - KaiA, KaiB, KaiC - making this the best-defined biological oscillator currently known. It is possible to reconstitute metabolic input signaling to this minimal clock by varying ATP and ADP concentrations (Rust et al, 2011).  We are actively pursuing a quantitative understanding of the reactions that generate oscillations and the robustness properties of this minimal circadian clock. We are also working outward to expand the functions that can be studied in a purified context and include additional components from the in vivo clock system. We seek to tie the biochemical and biophysical properties of these components back to physiologically relevant conclusions for the organism by making quantitative measurements of growth rate and single-cell behavior, including experiments that are uniquely possible in microbial model systems.

We have recently shown that both robustness and adaptability of the clock are determined by the two enzymatic domains of KaiC (Phong et al, 2013).  One of the domains, CII, phosphorylates itself in response to input signals.  CI, a domain of previously unknown function, is insulated from input signals and sets a slow, constant timescale for the interaction between KaiC and the negative regulator KaiB. By building mathematical models of this system, we showed that this two-domain architecture is needed to get the combination of robust period and tunable phase in the circadian clock.  These models will help to illuminate the structures of the clock networks in humans and other organisms where input-sensitive and input-insensitive feedback loops may also be required for proper function.

Selected publications

Lin J, et al. Mixtures of opposing phosphorylations within hexamers precisely time feedback in the cyanobacterial circadian clock
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2014 Sep 16. pnas.1408692111. Epub 2014 Sep 2.
PMID: 25197081

Pattanayak GK, et al. Rhythms in energy storage control the ability of the cyanobacterial circadian clock to reset
Curr Biol. 2014 Aug 18. j.cub.2014.07.022. Epub 2014 Aug 7.
PMID: 25127221

Pattanayak G, et al. The cyanobacterial clock and metabolism
Curr Opin Microbiol. 2014 Apr. j.mib.2014.02.010. Epub 2014 Mar 22.
PMID: 24667330

Lab Members



Justin Chew

Genetics, Genomics & Systems Biology
Medical Sciences Training Program
Michael Rust Laboratory
Udaysankar Chockanathan

Udaysankar Chockanathan

IGSB, Alumni, Research Technician,
Previous Affiliation: Michael Rust Lab
Guillaume Lambert

Guillaume Lambert

Michael Rust Laboratory
(773) 795-5650

Eugene Leypunskiy

PhD Student,
Rust Lab
Jenny Lin

Jenny Lin

PhD Student,
BMB, Michael Rust Laboratory
Gopal Pattanayak

Gopal Pattanayak

Michael Rust Laboratory
Connie Phong

Connie Phong

PhD Student,
Michael Rust Laboratory
Cell and Molecular Biology/Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology
Michael Rust

Michael Rust

IGSB, Core Member, Director,
Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology
(773) 834-1463
Crystal Wilhoite

Crystal Wilhoite

Alumni, Research Technician,
Michael Rust Laboratory
(773) 795-5650


Researchers Reset Bacteria’s Internal Clock by Rewiring Metabolism

The Rust Lab separated metabolism from light exposure by using a synthetic biology approach to make photosynthetic bacteria capable of living on sugar, rather than sunlight. “I was surprised that this actually worked—by genetically engineering just one sugar transporter, it was possible to give these bacteria a completely different lifestyle than the one they have had for hundreds of millions of years,” says Dr. Rust.

Protein Drives Timekeeping System

In a study soon to appear in print in the journal Science, IGSB faculty Mike Rust and his team show how the highly unusual movements of a single protein drives the shift from nighttime to daytime biological functions in cyanobacteria.
The circadian clock drives powerful rhythms of rest and activity with your internal clock synchronized with local time. At night, you feel tired and in the morning, you feel ready to take on the world. You get jet lag when your clock — and therefore physiology and metabolism — are out of sync with your environment.

IGSB Students Participate in iGEM Competition

IGSB students in Mike Rust's lab are collaborating on an International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) project about synthetic biology. IGSB team members are using standardized biological parts provided by iGEM and molecular components they have devised to engineer E.coli mutator strains that can optimize the production of a desired metabolite using a novel technique in directed evolution. The team will go to the 2014 iGEM jamboree at MIT to present their research. Participating iGEM teams from around the world will also attend and demonstrate synthetic living systems with innovative functions and capabilities.

Mike Rust Honored by Being Named a Pew Scholar

IGSB Core Member, Mike Rust, was
honored today by being named a Pew
Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences by the
Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew Scholars are
selected by a national advisory committee.
They receive flexible funding over four
years to seed innovation at the start of
independent research careers.

The inner workings of the circadian clock

Michael Rust and colleagues reveal the biochemical mechanisms that allow the oscillations of the cyanobacterial biological clock to be tuned to changes in the environment while simultaneously maintaining a robust 24-hour period.

Research Papers