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Sickle Cell Disease Education and Screening in Kenya

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Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is a prevalent genetic disease in Africa, and specifically in Kenya. The lack of available relevant disease education and screening mean that most don't understand the importance of getting testing and many children die before they

Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) is a prevalent genetic disease in Africa, and specifically in Kenya. The lack of available relevant disease education and screening mean that most don't understand the importance of getting testing and many children die before they can get prophylactic care. This project was designed to address the lack of knowledge with supplemental educational materials to be partnered with an engineering capstone project that provides a low cost diagnostic test.

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2014-05

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A Novel Bacterial Response to an ATP Sequestering Protein in Escherichia coli is controlled by the Stringent Response

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Bacteria have been shown to possess a large array of regulatory mechanisms to not just respond to a diverse array of environmental stresses, but to injurious artificial proteins as well. A previous investigation introduced DX, a man-made ATP sequestering protein

Bacteria have been shown to possess a large array of regulatory mechanisms to not just respond to a diverse array of environmental stresses, but to injurious artificial proteins as well. A previous investigation introduced DX, a man-made ATP sequestering protein into Escherichia coli (E. coli) which resulted in the formation of novel endoliposome structures and induced a viable but non-culturable state (VBNC) that was not easily reversed. It was hypothesized that the broadly conserved bacterial stringent response pathway may have been responsible for the observed phenotypic changes. With the goal of unveiling the molecular mechanism behind this novel response, changes in cellular morphology and physiology upon DX expression were assessed in a population of E. coli encoding a dysfunctional relA gene, one of the two genes controlling the induction of the stringent response. It was ultimately shown that RelA directly contributed to cellular filamentation, endoliposome structure formation, and the induction of a VBNC state. While the stringent response has been extensively shown to induce a VBNC state, to our knowledge, relA has not yet been shown to induce filamentation or coordinate the formation of endoliposome structures in bacteria. As the stringent response has been shown to be increasingly involved in antibiotic tolerance, this study provided an exciting opportunity to further characterize this adaptive response pathway to aid in the future development of novel therapeutics. In addition to this, this study continued to highlight that the DX protein may serve one of the first tools to allow for the direct selection of bacteria in a VBNC state by morphologically distinguishing non-culturable cells through cellular filamentation.

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2014-12

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Validating a Model for Catalytic Function in 9°N Polymerase Based on Structural Conservation

Description

Nucleic acids encode the information required to create life, and polymerases are the gatekeepers charged with maintaining the storage and flow of this genetic information. Synthetic biologists utilize this universal property to modify organisms and other systems to create unique

Nucleic acids encode the information required to create life, and polymerases are the gatekeepers charged with maintaining the storage and flow of this genetic information. Synthetic biologists utilize this universal property to modify organisms and other systems to create unique traits or improve the function of others. One of the many realms in synthetic biology involves the study of biopolymers that do not exist naturally, which is known as xenobiology. Although life depends on two biopolymers for genetic storage, it may be possible that alternative molecules (xenonucleic acids – XNAs), could be used in their place in either a living or non-living system. However, implementation of an XNA based system requires the development of polymerases that can encode and decode information stored in these artificial polymers. A strategy called directed evolution is used to modify or alter the function of a protein of interest, but identifying mutations that can modify polymerase function is made problematic by their size and overall complexity. To reduce the amount of sequence space that needs to be samples when attempting to identify polymerase variants, we can try to make informed decisions about which amino acid residues may have functional roles in catalysis. An analysis of Family B polymerases has shown that residues which are involved in substrate specificity are often highly conserved both at the sequence and structure level. In order to validate the hypothesis that a strong correlation exists between structural conservation and catalytic activity, we have selected and mutated residues in the 9°N polymerase using a loss of function mutagenesis strategy based on a computational analysis of several homologues from a diverse range of taxa. Improvement of these models will hopefully lead to quicker identification of loci which are ideal engineering targets.

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2015-05

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Using Natural Diversity of Quorum Sensing to Expand the Synthetic Biology Toolbox

Description

Currently in synthetic biology only the Las, Lux, and Rhl quorum sensing pathways have been adapted for broad engineering use. Quorum sensing allows a means of cell to cell communication in which a designated sender cell produces quorum sensing molecules

Currently in synthetic biology only the Las, Lux, and Rhl quorum sensing pathways have been adapted for broad engineering use. Quorum sensing allows a means of cell to cell communication in which a designated sender cell produces quorum sensing molecules that modify gene expression of a designated receiver cell. While useful, these three quorum sensing pathways exhibit a nontrivial level of crosstalk, hindering robust engineering and leading to unexpected effects in a given design. To address the lack of orthogonality among these three quorum sensing pathways, previous scientists have attempted to perform directed evolution on components of the quorum sensing pathway. While a powerful tool, directed evolution is limited by the subspace that is defined by the protein. For this reason, we take an evolutionary biology approach to identify new orthogonal quorum sensing networks and test these networks for cross-talk with currently-used networks. By charting characteristics of acyl homoserine lactone (AHL) molecules used across quorum sensing pathways in nature, we have identified favorable candidate pathways likely to display orthogonality. These include Aub, Bja, Bra, Cer, Esa, Las, Lux, Rhl, Rpa, and Sin, which we have begun constructing and testing. Our synthetic circuits express GFP in response to a quorum sensing molecule, allowing quantitative measurement of orthogonality between pairs. By determining orthogonal quorum sensing pairs, we hope to identify and adapt novel quorum sensing pathways for robust use in higher-order genetic circuits.

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2015-05