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Clay Wright

Assistant Professor
  • Research areas: Plant Synthetic Biology


Ph.D., Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, 2014

B.S., Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, North Carolina State University, 2008


April 2014 – August 2018 - Postdoctoral Fellow, Departments of Biology and Electrical Engineering, University of Washington, Seattle WA

January 2013 – April 2014 - Co-founder, Revolve Biotech Inc., Baltimore MD

January 2013 – July 2013 – Engineering Consultant, Novocor Medical Systems, Chapel Hill NC

January 2005 – January 2007 - Molecular Pharmacology Research Assistant, Inspire Pharmaceuticals Inc., Durham NC

Selected Major Awards

  • 2014 – 2017 - NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at the Intersection of Biology, Mathematical and Physical Sciences 
  • 2010 – 2014 - NSF Graduate Research Fellowship

Teaching Activities

University of Washington, School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences, Introduction to R Programming (FISH 552) and Advanced R Programming (FISH 553) for Natural Scientists

Program Focus

Our research focuses on understanding how signaling networks facilitate both plasticity and robustness in plant form and function, and how we can harness this knowledge to engineer proteins, signaling networks, and biosynthetic pathways for applications in agriculture and biotechnology.

The ability to reliably transfer information–both within an organism and from one generation to the next–is essential to life. Plants must be especially adept in sensing, reacting to, and predicting changes in their surroundings, as they are rooted in one place throughout their lifecycle. Perhaps as a result of this strong selective pressure, plant evolution is marked by frequent duplication of genes and entire biological circuits that are responsible for environmental sensing. While some duplicate genes retain their ancestral functions providing redundancy, others can drift and potentially adopt new functions. This process of gene duplication and divergence expedites adaptation by creating large and highly connected signaling networks, allowing organisms to collect and integrate more environmental information to result in more robust growth and more complex developmental patterns than simple signaling circuits.

Our research integrates approaches from synthetic and computational biology, protein engineering, bioinformatics, molecular evolution, and genetics to quantify signaling dynamics, genetic interactions, and functional relationships in plant signaling. In the lab, we utilize synthetic biology and genetically tractable model bacteria, yeast, and plants to recapitulate complex signaling pathways in a bottom-up engineering approach. We also build tools, such as biosensors and bioinformatics pipelines, to facilitate quantitative top-down genetics approaches to understanding signaling.

Selected Recent Publications

Wright RC, Zahler ML*, Gerben SL*, Nemhauser JL (2017) Insights into the Evolution and Function of Auxin Signaling F-Box Proteins in Arabidopsis thaliana Through Synthetic Analysis of Natural Variants. Genetics 207(2):583-591. doi:10.1534/genetics.117.300092.            

Wright RC, Bolten N, Pierre-Jerome E (2017) flowTime: Annotation and analysis of biological dynamical systems using flow cytometry (R-package), January 2017. doi:10.18129/B9.bioc.flowTime.           

Pierre-Jerome E, Wright RC, Nemhauser JL (2017) Characterizing Auxin Response Circuits in Saccharomyces cerevisiae by Flow Cytometry. Plant Hormones: Methods and Protocols, Methods in Molecular Biology, vol. 1497, Jürgen Kleine-Vehn and Michael Sauer (eds.). doi:10.1007/978-1-4939-6469-7_22.           

Wright RC, Nemhauser JL (2015) New tangles in the auxin signaling web. F1000Prime Rep. 7:19. doi:10.12703/P7-19.           

Wright RC, Khakhar A*, Eshleman JR, Ostermeier M (2014) Advancements in the development of HIF-1α-activated protein switches for use in enzyme prodrug therapy. PLoS One. 9(11):e114032. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0114032.     

Kanwar M, Wright RC, Date A, Tullman J, Ostermeier M (2013) Protein switch engineering by domain insertion. Methods in Enzymology. 523:369-88. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-394292-0.00017-5.

Wright CM, Wright RC, Eshleman JR, Ostermeier M (2011) A protein therapeutic modality founded on molecular regulation. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 108(39):16206-11. doi:10.1073/pnas.1102803108. 

Featured in Discover Magazine “Top 100 Stories of 2011: #38 Killing Cancer from the Inside” January-February 2012 issue (5 Jan 2012)

Selected Recent Funding

Cracking the code of highly adaptable plant receptor proteins to engineer novel synthetic circuits. NSF PRFB DBI-1402222, 7/14-6/16, Wright: PI. Sponsoring mentors: Jennifer Nemhauser, Biology, University of Washington and Eric Klavins, Electrical Engineering, University of Washington.