About This Project
We will be utilizing the natural transport ability of outer membrane vesicles (OMVs), membrane-bound sacs produced by bacteria, to create a powerful system for one-step protein cloning-to-delivery method. This will involve fusing proteins specifically concentrated in OMVs to those of our interest, which will guide them into the double-membrane structures. Our research will aim to standardize this process so that other scientists may take advantage of it in the future.
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What is the context of this research?
Outer membrane vesicles are spherical, double-membrane enclosed structures generated naturally from a variety of both gram-negative and gram-positive bacteria, including E. coli. They are capable of selectively encompassing, transporting and delivering carried molecules to other cells, including cells of different species.
Recent research has shown that it is possible for fusion proteins generated from select membrane molecules and proteins of interest to be guided into OMVs in a fully functional form. Furthermore, these interactions can be guided by a cell-specific targeting mechanism. Our interest lies, therefore, into exploring and manipulating this system into a workable form.
What is the significance of this project?
OMVs, like other cell to cell transport system such as viruses and liposomes, carry a huge potential for clinical benefit and are often at the forefront of most innovative disease treatment trials. Furthermore, unlike those systems, OMVs are far more easily produced and manufactured, given their existence in nearly all bacterial species.
OMVs also offer a large benefit to basic research science, as most other cell-cell communication methods in the lab cannot transport proteins or require more effort to use. Our system will take one-step - the introduction of a new fusion protein gene into E. coli - and the result will be a fully functional transport method capable of complex molecule transport.
What are the goals of the project?
Our research will be split into several stages. In the first stage, we will incorporate eight selected protein fusions – composed of proteins naturally concentrated in OMVs and a signal protein – into E. coli cells. Using that signal protein, we will assay for their presence and determine the fusions which are most powerful.
Next we will generate new fusion proteins composed of the powerful naturally concentrated proteins and a specific protein which will cause cell death. In this way, we can ascertain if the fusion protein penetrates membranes.
Afterward, we will generate a DNA template that any scientist can use to make their own OMV protein and submit it to the iGEM registry. We hope to present this and our other findings at the Jamboree in October!
We need access to an ultracentrifuge in order to effectively purify OMVs, which comes at a cost to researchers at the UNC Common Core Facilities. Additionally, our team wishes to present at the annual Jamboree this October, which has a steep registration fee. Additional funds will be allocated to more basic lab expenses, such as purification kits from Zymo (Miniprep, Gel, PCR) and sequencing from Etonbio.
Meet the Team
UNC iGEM 2016
The iGEM Competition is the premiere student competition in Synthetic Biology. Around 300 teams will be participating in 2016 from all around the world, including every inhabited continent.
We, the UNC iGEM 2016 Team, are a group of 10 undergraduates working together on a common research issue. Our main faculty adviser is Shawn Gomez of the UNC-CH and NC State Joint BME Department and our main mentor is Erin Borchardt.
Shruti is a rising sophomore Biomedical Engineering major and Neuroscience and Chemistry double minor. She works as a pre-editor for BioResources, an online, peer reviewed journal devoted to the science and engineering of lignocellulosic materials. She is interested in Nanomedicine and Nanotechnology, and plans to integrate her engineering background with a career in medicine.
iGEM is Shruti's first undergraduate research experience where she has learned valuable lab techniques and enhanced her scientific knowledge beyond the classroom setting. In her free time, Shruti enjoys to play the violin. She also volunteers at local hospitals and libraries.
Maggie P.W. Cai
Maggie is a rising sophomore majoring in biology and minoring in sports science and neuroscience at UNC Chapel Hill. She is a determined pre-med student who is especially interested in neurobiology research. Her more recent plan is to pursue her medicine studies in Singapore after graduation. Besides life science, Maggie enjoys traveling and learning cultures and languages; for now, she is fluent in Cantonese, English, German and Mandarin.
Mohit is a rising junior from Elizabeth City, NC. He is currently majoring in Nutrition in the Gilling's School of Global Public Health with biology and chemistry minors. Outside of the lab, Mohit enjoys volunteering at the local food bank and is an avid basketball and football fan. Mohit is also the co-founder of Carolina Khalsa, Vice-President of the Carolina Pre-Medical Association and an active member of Sigma Phi.
Taryn is a rising senior biology major and medical anthropology minor from Apex, North Carolina. She works as a laboratory assistant for three PIs in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the UNC School of Medicine, and will be beginning her own research project in the fall. Her main love is genetics and she plans to pursue a career in pharmacogenomics research. When she’s not in the lab, Taryn loves to travel the world. Her favorite places she’s visited are Chiang Mai, Thailand and Lake Lucerne, Switzerland. She also enjoys hiking, watching Carolina basketball, and spending time with her chihuahua, the Mighty Hercules.
Nick is a rising sophomore from Providence, Rhode Island and is majoring in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. He is interested in molecular
biology and genetics, hoping to pursue a career in clinical laboratory research. iGEM has been Nick’s first in-lab research experience at UNC and he hopes to apply the skills that he has learned during iGEM in other labs on campus. Outside of iGEM, Nick is a brother of the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and enjoys listening to live music, traveling and sailing.
Courtney is a rising junior majoring in biology at UNC Chapel Hill. While iGEM is her first in lab experience, in the future, she hopes to pursue a career in research, with a concentration in genetics. In her free time, Courtney enjoys spending time with her girlfriend and their small kitten, as well as painting, and listening to music.
Siena is a rising senior majoring in Biology and minoring in Chemistry and History at UNC Chapel Hill. Her interests include microbiology and astrobiology and she hopes to pursue a career in academic research. When she is not making cultures or performing DNA extractions in lab, she can be found reading comics, going to punk shows at local venues or catching Pokémon.
Elizabeth is a rising senior from Bristol, VA majoring in Biology (BS) and minoring in Chemistry and Music. She has previous research experience in a variety of disciplines, including neurocognition, analytical chemistry, and molecular biology. She hopes to pursue her MD and her MPH, and to have a career as a cardiothoracic surgeon. She enjoys hiking, long-distance running, playing trumpet, and spoiling her dog Boone.
Connor is a rising junior from Yardley, Pennsylvania. He is majoring in Chemistry and Biology and is a member of Honors Carolina. His own interests stem in the intersection of pharmaceuticals and biology and he hopes to pursue a graduate degree in those fields. He has previous experience as both a member of the 2015 UNC iGEM team and an undergraduate of the Zhang Lab at UNC. Outside of research, he enjoys gaming, reading and his time as a member of the UNC Honor Court.
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