Kuhlman selected Sloan Foundation Fellows

Siv Schwink

Thomas Kuhlman, assistant professor of physics is among three faculty members at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to be selected for 2015 Sloan Research Fellowships by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

The two-year fellowships are awarded annually to 126 early-career scientists and scholars engaged in fundamental research, in recognition of distinguished performance and a unique potential to make substantial contributions to their field.

Kuhlman works at the intersection of experimental and theoretical biological physics. His research has tremendous implications for our identifying how gene expression is controlled and for our understanding of how genetic diseases develop and propagate.

In the lab, Kuhlman performs in vivo genome manipulation experiments, disrupting and rearranging the spatial and genomic organization of regulatory networks in Escherichia coli to directly observe and quantify the potential biophysical forces that determine the architecture and organization of genomes. Kuhlman’s molecular-engineered tools—now in use at dozens of labs around the world and licensed to several commercial biotech companies—allow the precise integration of large synthetic gene constructs into any desired location of the E. coli chromosome.

Using cutting-edge single-molecule microscopy, Kuhlman exposes how transcription factors regulate genes and reveals the consequences of genome organization on gene expression.

Since the fundamental mechanisms of gene regulation are similar over all domains of life, these observations may have implications for understanding gene regulation in higher organisms as well, including humans.

Kuhlman uses his experimental findings to construct theoretical models that describe the interaction of transcription factors with DNA; these models in turn motivate further in vivo experiments.

Kuhlman also experimentally studies the propagation of transposons through populations of E. coli, using a synthetic inducible transposon. Transposons, sometimes referred to as “junk DNA”, are mobile genetic elements present in all domains of life that can spontaneously change their position within a genome. Transposons are implicated in many diseases, including hemophilia, porphyria, and muscular dystrophy. This work has implications for future medical interventions for these and other transposon-related diseases.

Kuhlman received his bachelor’s degree in physics and in biology with emphases in genetics and in cellular and molecular biology from Ball University in 2000. He earned his doctoral degree in physics from the University of California, San Diego, in 2007. While at UCSD he worked at the interface of theoretical physics and experimental biology, studying and validating statistical mechanical models of transcriptional and post-transcriptional gene regulation in E. coli.

From 2008 to 2012 Kuhlman worked as a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, working in the lab of Professor Ted Cox, supported by a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award (NRSA) for Individual Postdoctoral Fellows.

Kuhlman joined the faculty at Physics Illinois in 2012.