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Are you interested in getting involved in the exciting field of synthetic biology?

After decades of study, knowledge on the molecules that comprise living cells has advanced to the point where it is now possible to mimic biological constituents and their interactions using synthetic approaches. This growing research field, synthetic biology, utilizes an interdisciplinary mixture of biology and engineering to recreate, reconfigure or repurpose cellular components. Importantly, as the field of synthetic biology matures, its goals will correspondingly progress from proof-in-principle demonstrations to practical applications, which will target problems that range from the environment to the clinic. This stream aims to introduce you to the field of synthetic biology.

Our stream has two primary research goals:

(1) Selecting and characterizing aptamers for target molecules:
  • Aptamers are short, single-stranded oligonucleotides (single-stranded DNA or RNA) that are selected via in vitro evolution to bind with high affinity and selectivity to a target of interest.
  • Our lab is currently working on selecting aptamers for various proteins (including viral RNA polymerases, cancer biomarkers, and proteins involved in the regulation of gene expression in bacteria) and smaller molecules (ex. bacterial signaling molecules).
  • The aptamers we select can be potentially used in diagnostic and therapeutic applications and/or in biosensors.

    (2) Designing and testing aptamer-based biosensors:
  • Biosensors are biomolecules that are capable of detecting a target of interest and emitting a quantifiable output signal.
  • Our lab designs and conducts in vitro testing of aptamer-based biosensors for targets of interest (ex. bacterial signaling molecules; environmental pollutants). Our biosensors consist of two RNA aptamers joined by a communication module: one aptamer binds to the target of interest, which then leads to the other aptamer binding to its fluorophore target and emitting fluorescence. We have plans to explore other biosensor designs in the future.
  • Depending on the intended target, our biosensors can be used to study bacterial signaling mechanisms (via live cell imaging) or in diagnostic or environmental applications.

    Our stream has active collaborations with research groups in the UMD departments of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics (CBMG) and Bioengineering, as well as research groups at other universities (University of Notre Dame, UT Austin). Students in this stream will receive training in Microbiology, Cell Biology, Computational Biology, Molecular Biology, and Biological Engineering.

  • 2018 Engineering Biosensors Innovation & Research Stream

    Faculty Advisor
    Dr. Wade Winkler

    Research Educator
    Dr. Catherine Spirito