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Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series (WALS) - Cellular communication: how cells control who they’re talking to and what they’re saying

December 6, 2017

3:00pm - 4:00pm

Building 10, Clinical Center, Masur Auditorium

The NIH Director's Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series, colloquially known as WALS, is the highest-profile lecture program at the NIH. Lectures occur on most Wednesdays from September through June from 3:00 to 4:00 p.m. in Masur Auditorium, Building 10 on the NIH Bethesda campus.

Each season includes some of the biggest names in biomedical and behavioral research. The goal of the WALS is to keep NIH researchers abreast of the latest and most important research in the United States and beyond. An added treat is the annual J. Edward Rall Cultural Lecture, which features top authors and other cultural icons. All speakers are nominated by the NIH community.

The full WALS lecture season agenda is available at


Michael B. Elowitz, Ph.D.
Investigator, HHMI
Professor, Bren Scholar
California Institute of Technology

Lecture summary:
In multicellular organisms, a handful of intercellular communication pathways, such as Notch and BMP, play an outside role in controlling cell fate decisions. While we have much information about the specific molecules and interactions that comprise these pathways, we often understand little about the particular signal processing behaviors each pathway provides. We have been developing a ‘build-to-understand’ approach to this problem, reconstructing or re-wiring these pathways using synthetic biology approaches, and analyzing their dynamic behaviors at the level of individual cells. For his lecture, Dr. Elowitz will focus on a particular architectural feature in which a pathway uses multiple distinct ligand and receptor variants that interact promiscuously with one another. New results suggest how this apparent redundancy can, counterintuitively, allow control of signal specificity (“who talks to whom”) and target program (“message”). Dr. Elowitz will also discuss a new synthetic approach termed MEMOIR that should enable cells to record their own signaling histories over longer timescales.

This lecture will be followed by a reception in the NIH Library. Special thanks to the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences (FAES) for its support of the weekly reception. FAES is proud to co-sponsor with the NIH in hosting the Wednesday Afternoon Lecture Series.

To watch the lecture online, visit Registration is not required; seating is on a first-come, first-served basis. Fire regulations require that every person in Masur Auditorium must have a seat. Standing in the aisles or in the back of the auditorium is not permitted. Sign language interpreters can be provided. Individuals with disabilities who need reasonable accommodation to participate in this event should contact Jacqueline Roberts,, 301-594-6747, or the Federal Relay, 800-877-8339.