Environment and Pathogen Sensing

 

Living DNA sensors: Low-cost testing of samples for pathogenic nucleic acids is key to the detection and monitoring of pathogens in environmental samples. We are developing a colorimetric detection system in which crude wastewater is mixed with detector bacteria. One advantage of our system is that cell-based biosensors are robust to contaminants and can detect DNA in crude, unprocessed samples.

 

Designing around carbon capture: Existing biological systems are rarely evolved to produce pure compounds in large quantities. Instead, life evolved exquisite control over producing a wide range of chemical products. By interfacing inorganic catalysts with engineered bacteria, it may be possible to merge high yields with biology’s chemical catalog. To this end, we created the ‘bionic leaf’, a system in which the bacterium converts CO2 and H2 produced from electrolysis into commercially relevant molecules and biomass. We are interested in using this to tackle useful chemical transformations.

Bionic Leaf

Anticipating pathogens: The evolution and spread of new infectious agents has increased with population growth as well as with environmental changes. Biological threats of viruses and other pathogens are organized by genetic relatedness that fail to reflect biological functions. One of the grand challenges for synthetic biology is to be able to rapidly characterize new pathogens and implement immediate responses. We are taking bioinformatic and functional approaches to this challenging problem by combining screening and synthetic biology.