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SURF Mentoring

Potential projects/topics: The SURF students may be involved in one of the following projects. There may also be other directions that are not listed below, and please feel free to approach the PI directly. (i) Engineered Living Materials. The student may use genetic engineering and synthetic biology method to design microbes to form materials of interesting properties. (ii) Assembly Mechanism of Gas-filled Protein Nanostructures. The student may leverage biochemistry and molecular biology to study the function and interactions of proteins underlying the assembly process of a group of unique gas-filled protein nanostructures.

Potential skills gained: Synthetic biology, protein engineering, biochemistry, material science.

Required qualifications: None

Direct mentor: Post-doctorate, Graduate Student

Research Areas

The Laboratory for Synthetic Macromolecular Assemblies focuses on the engineering of a class of protein assemblies named gas vesicles (GVs). GVs were discovered in certain photosynthetic microbes such as cyanobacteria, which express and assemble them inside cells to float to the surface of the water for maximal photosynthesis. The hollow nanoscale gas compartments of GVs give rise to many interesting mechanical and material properties, and often these properties are genetically tunable by their protein sequences. Research in the past few years leverages these properties and establishes the utilities of GVs as reporter genes for ultrasound imaging, MRI, and optical coherence tomography. In addition, GVs enable the spatial manipulation and control of cells through ways such as acoustic tweezers and inertial cavitation. These technologies opened up a new frontier of noninvasive deep-tissue imaging and control of genetically engineered cells, and have the potential impact especially in cell-based therapies, which currently lack an efficient method to monitor and modulate cellular activities in vivo. The lab employs multidisciplinary approaches in protein engineering, synthetic biology, chemical biology, and computational biology to understand the biophysics of these protein nanostructures and to engineer novel biomedical applications based on their unique properties. Current research includes several interrelated directions: Structure and the assembly mechanism of gas vesicles, design and evolution of novel gas-filled protein nanostructures, design of GV-based gene circuits, development of ultrasound imaging and focused ultrasound methods, and translation of the technologies towards cell-based therapies.