Elena Schäfer is a curious and cross-disciplinary synthetic biologist with a distinguished academic background, having received training in cutting edge synthetic biology and protein engineering in Pam Silver's lab at Harvard Medical School and recently completing her PhD studies in the Hollfelder lab at the University of Cambridge. Currently she is looking to build on her PhD work at MIT.
Aligned with Elena’s passion for exploring biological solutions to the adverse effects of anthropogenic processes on the environment, her doctoral research focused on combatting plastic pollution. The conceptualization of Elena’s project, which focusses on the directed evolution of PET hydrolysing enzymes (PHEs) within an ultra-high throughput setup took shape during the initial pandemic lockdown, right from her college dorm room. Her expertise in synthetic circuits and biosensors, droplet microfluidics, directed evolution and the exploration of a variety of different chassis organisms supported the solidification of the idea, while collaborations (e.g. with the Center for Biosustainability at DTU earning her the prestigious EMBO scientific exchange grant), made it possible to investigate single components of the envisaged platform in detail.
Elena has already laid the foundational groundwork for the envisioned PHE assay platform during her PhD, including the identification of suitable host organisms for PHE expression and the development of biosensors capable of detecting PET hydrolysis products. While significant strides have been made, there remains a substantial body of work ahead to fully realize the potential of her project. With support, Elena's pioneering research has the potential to advance our understanding of PHEs but also hold the key to transformative solutions in addressing plastic pollution—a critical issue with far-reaching environmental and sustainability implications.