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Current Cluster Students

Eleanor Clark

Grad Program: IBiS
PhD Adviser: Christian Petersen

Doctoral Research Project:  The ability to regenerate damaged tissue is widespread and varied across the animal kingdom. An essential process in regeneration is the ability to sense and respond to the location and extent of injury, but the mechanisms underlying this are still poorly understood. Planarians are flatworms capable of whole-body regeneration, even after decapitation, and are a powerful system for uncovering regeneration principles. These animals express body-wide patterning determinants constitutively during adulthood that define identity across the major body axes, but the regulatory systems that link these factors are unknown. To address this deficit, my research focuses on elucidating the spatial interactions between key axis determinants in homeostasis and regeneration. Uncovering the fundamental mechanisms used to control communication across the orthogonal axes will provide foundational insights into understanding proportional growth and regenerative ability.


Amparo Cosio

Grad Program: ChBE
PhD Adviser: Josh Leonard

Doctoral Research Project:  Cell based therapies have enormous potential for addressing the most challenging diseases, and one of the pillars of cell‐based therapies are extracellular receptors that enable the sensing and response to soluble physiological cues within a patient. A potential limitation of current receptor technologies—and other promising mammalian synthetic biology technologies such as protein‐based circuits and sensors—is the use of virally derived components. Viral components are widely‐used because they do not interfere with endogenous
processes, but non‐human proteins may be immunogenic and could thus impair persistence in patients and limit therapeutic efficacy and safety. The ideal version of such a strategy would utilize human‐derived parts that still act orthogonally from the cell’s functions. To meet this need, I work on engineering humanized synthetic biology technologies for use in synthetic receptors.

Rohin Devanathan

Grad Program: ChBE
PhD Advisers: Keith Tyo

Doctoral Research Project:  Metabolic engineering enables the production of complex molecules that are difficult and costly to synthesize chemically.  In particular, metabolic pathways can introduce chirality without the use of complex catalysts. However, cellular production of non-native compounds has proved difficult, due to the significant metabolic stress induced by heterologous pathways. Utilizing promiscuous enzymes, which are capable of catalyzing multiple similar reactions, is an emerging area in synthetic biology, enabling the production of new-to-nature compounds. My project focuses on carboligases, a class of promiscuous enzymes that form carbon-carbon bonds. Utilizing high-throughput methods, I am interested in characterizing the promiscuity of carboligases and engineering these enzymes to synthesize compounds of medicinal, industrial, and commercial interest.

Jenni Li

Grad Program: ChBE
PhD Adviser: Julius Lucks

Doctoral Research Project:  The Lucks Lab has previously developed a cell-free in vitro transcription system that uses RNA Output Sensors Activated by Ligand Induction (ROSALIND) to detect water contaminants. I aim to improve the current system by leveraging toehold-mediated DNA strand displacement (TMSD) circuits—a programable DNA nanotechnology that can use designed interactions to implement a range of genetic circuit functions. In my proposed system, TMSD circuits will be activated through interactions with RNA signals generated by allosteric transcription factor (aTF) biosensors. Specifically, I plan to design TMSD circuits that increase the robustness, sensitivity and specificity of cell-free biosensors in three complementary aims. Commercializing these field deployable water sensors would give access of accurate water quality tests to vulnerable communities throughout the globe.

Austeja Staneviciute

Grad Program: BME
PhD Adviser: Evan Scott

Doctoral Research Project:  Chagas disease is a neglected tropical disease caused by the protozoa T. cruzi.  Unfortunately, initial signs of disease are often absent and the chronic stages of infection include fatal myocarditis and megacolon. Due to the significant toxicity associated with current Chagas treatments, my project is focused on advancing therapy development through an improved drug formulation and the design of a nanoparticle drug delivery system. I am interested in investigating targeting moieties and immunoengineering to facilitate the reduction of parasitosis and inflammation.

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