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A Synthetic Gene for Detecting Epigenetic Changes in Live Human Cells

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Current research into live-cell dynamics, particularly those relating to chromatin structure and remodeling, are limited. The tools that are used to detect state changes in chromatin, such as Chromatin Immunoprecipitation and qPCR, require that the cell be killed off. This

Current research into live-cell dynamics, particularly those relating to chromatin structure and remodeling, are limited. The tools that are used to detect state changes in chromatin, such as Chromatin Immunoprecipitation and qPCR, require that the cell be killed off. This limits the ability of researchers to pinpoint changes in live cells over a longer period of time. As such, there is a need for a live-cell sensor that can detect chromatin state changes. The Chromometer is a transgenic chromatin state sensor designed to better understand human cell fate and the chromatin changes that occur. HOXD11.12, a DNA sequence that attracts repressive Polycomb group (PCG) proteins, was placed upstream of a core promoter-driven fluorescent reporter (AmCyan fluorescent protein, CFP) to link chromatin repression to a CFP signal. The transgene was stably inserted at an ectopic site in U2-OS (osteosarcoma) cells. Expression of CFP should reflect the epigenetic state at the HOXD locus, where several genes are regulated by Polycomb to control cell differentiation. U2-OS cells were transfected with the transgene and grown under selective pressure. Twelve colonies were identified as having integrated parts from the transgene into their genomes. PCR testing verified 2 cell lines that contain the complete transgene. Flow cytometry indicated mono-modal and bimodal populations in all transgenic cell colonies. Further research must be done to determine the effectiveness of this device as a sensor for live cell state change detection.

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2016-05

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

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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

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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