Postdoctoral scholar, California Institute of Technology
Unlocking the potential of known proteins for functions they don't have in the natural world.
My research draws expertise in chemistry, biology and engineering to repurpose existing biological systems, in particular proteins, for functions that have no precedent in nature. These new capabilities are encoded by DNA and easy to modify, offering innovative, sustainable, and cost effective solutions to challenges we face in our human world. For example, we recently discovered that living organisms can bring carbon and silicon together to form bonds – something which can only be seen in sci-fi movies up till now but never in natural biological systems. Through evolution in the laboratory, we enhanced the carbon–silicon bond forming ability of a protein from a bacterium that grows in hot springs in Iceland. This evolved protein can make a range of silicon-containing products with efficiency higher than the best catalysts invented by chemists. Molecules containing carbon-silicon bonds have wide use in pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, medical diagnostics, coatings and paints, organic LEDS, and more. The potential to use microorganisms to make some of these products in the future is very exciting.
Abstract: Enzymes that catalyze carbon-silicon bond formation are unknown in nature, despite the natural abundance of both elements. Such enzymes would expand the catalytic repertoire of biology, enabling living systems to access chemical space previously only open to synthetic chemistry. We have discovered that heme proteins catalyze the formation of organosilicon compounds under physiological conditions via carbene insertion into silicon-hydrogen bonds. The reaction proceeds both in vitro and in vivo, accommodating a broad range of substrates with high chemo- and enantioselectivity. Using directed evolution, we enhanced the catalytic function of cytochrome c from Rhodothermus marinus to achieve more than 15-fold higher turnover than state-of-the-art synthetic catalysts. This carbon-silicon bond-forming biocatalyst offers an environmentally friendly and highly efficient route to producing enantiopure organosilicon molecules.
Pub.: 26 Nov '16, Pinned: 01 Jul '17
Abstract: Nature provides many examples of self- and co-assembling protein-based molecular machines, including icosahedral protein cages that serve as scaffolds, enzymes, and compartments for essential biochemical reactions and icosahedral virus capsids, which encapsidate and protect viral genomes and mediate entry into host cells. Inspired by these natural materials, we report the computational design and experimental characterization of co-assembling, two-component, 120-subunit icosahedral protein nanostructures with molecular weights (1.8 to 2.8 megadaltons) and dimensions (24 to 40 nanometers in diameter) comparable to those of small viral capsids. Electron microscopy, small-angle x-ray scattering, and x-ray crystallography show that 10 designs spanning three distinct icosahedral architectures form materials closely matching the design models. In vitro assembly of icosahedral complexes from independently purified components occurs rapidly, at rates comparable to those of viral capsids, and enables controlled packaging of molecular cargo through charge complementarity. The ability to design megadalton-scale materials with atomic-level accuracy and controllable assembly opens the door to a new generation of genetically programmable protein-based molecular machines.
Pub.: 28 Jul '16, Pinned: 03 Jul '17
Abstract: Nature has evolved an array of intricate protein assemblies that work together to perform the chemistry that maintains life. These protein machines function with exquisite specificity and coordination to accomplish their tasks, from DNA and RNA synthesis to protein folding and post-translational modifications. Despite their complexity, synthetic biologists have succeeded in redesigning many aspects of these molecular machines. For example, natural DNA polymerases have now been engineered to catalyze the synthesis of alternative genetic polymers called XNAs, orthogonal RNA polymerases and ribosomes have been engineered to enable the construction of genetic logic gates, and protein biogenesis machinery such as chaperonins and protein translocons have been repurposed to improve folding and expression of recombinant proteins. In this Review, we highlight the progress made in understanding, engineering, and repurposing bacterial protein machines for use in synthetic biology and biotechnology.
Pub.: 05 Mar '16, Pinned: 04 Jul '17
Abstract: Cladoniamides are indolotryptoline natural products that derive from indolocarbazole precursors. Here, we present a microbial platform to artificially redirect the cladoniamide pathway to generate unnatural bisindoles for drug discovery. Specifically, we target glycosyltransferase, halogenase, and oxidoreductase genes from the phylogenetically related indolocarbazole rebeccamycin and staurosporine pathways. We generate a series of novel compounds, reveal details about the substrate specificities of a number of enzymes, and set the stage for future efforts to develop new catalysts and compounds by engineering of bisindole genes. The strategy for structural diversification we use here could furthermore be applied to other natural product families with known biosynthetic genes.
Pub.: 31 Dec '14, Pinned: 03 Jul '17
Abstract: The clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-associated enzyme Cas9 is an RNA-guided endonuclease that uses RNA-DNA base-pairing to target foreign DNA in bacteria. Cas9-guide RNA complexes are also effective genome engineering agents in animals and plants. Here we use single-molecule and bulk biochemical experiments to determine how Cas9-RNA interrogates DNA to find specific cleavage sites. We show that both binding and cleavage of DNA by Cas9-RNA require recognition of a short trinucleotide protospacer adjacent motif (PAM). Non-target DNA binding affinity scales with PAM density, and sequences fully complementary to the guide RNA but lacking a nearby PAM are ignored by Cas9-RNA. Competition assays provide evidence that DNA strand separation and RNA-DNA heteroduplex formation initiate at the PAM and proceed directionally towards the distal end of the target sequence. Furthermore, PAM interactions trigger Cas9 catalytic activity. These results reveal how Cas9 uses PAM recognition to quickly identify potential target sites while scanning large DNA molecules, and to regulate scission of double-stranded DNA.
Pub.: 31 Jan '14, Pinned: 03 Jul '17
Abstract: Microorganisms have been used for decades as sources of antibiotics, vitamins and enzymes and for the production of fermented foods and chemicals. In the 21st century microorganisms will play a vital role in addressing some of the problems faced by mankind. In this article three of the current applications in which microbes have a significant role to play are highlighted: the discovery of new antibiotics, manufacture of biofuels and bioplastics, and production of fine chemicals via biotransformation.
Pub.: 02 Feb '12, Pinned: 04 Jul '17
Abstract: We describe complete design of a synthetic eukaryotic genome, Sc2.0, a highly modified Saccharomyces cerevisiae genome reduced in size by nearly 8%, with 1.1 megabases of the synthetic genome deleted, inserted, or altered. Sc2.0 chromosome design was implemented with BioStudio, an open-source framework developed for eukaryotic genome design, which coordinates design modifications from nucleotide to genome scales and enforces version control to systematically track edits. To achieve complete Sc2.0 genome synthesis, individual synthetic chromosomes built by Sc2.0 Consortium teams around the world will be consolidated into a single strain by "endoreduplication intercross." Chemically synthesized genomes like Sc2.0 are fully customizable and allow experimentalists to ask otherwise intractable questions about chromosome structure, function, and evolution with a bottom-up design strategy.
Pub.: 11 Mar '17, Pinned: 01 Jul '17
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