WPI researchers win $1.2 million award for uncovering how environment affects gene expression in bacteria

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Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) Researcher natalie farney could advance the use of bacteria for environmental remediation by elucidating how key biological processes control genes within bacteria as they adapt to conditions outside the laboratory. The company is launching a $1.2 million, five-year project.

Assistant Professor Fernie Department of Biology and Biotechnologyinvestigate the role of methylation in gene expression. Pseudomonas putidais the first soil bacterium identified in Japan, and is considered a versatile microorganism in industrial and environmental engineering.of National Science Foundation awards Farney with prestigious Career Award Funding this project will provide research opportunities for WPI students in the field of applying engineering design principles to construct new biological systems for use in fields such as medicine, manufacturing, and agriculture. It will create a new undergraduate educational resource focused on synthetic biology.

Samples from Farney’s lab show bacteria on the left and soil on the right.

“Genetically engineered bacteria have the potential to break down contaminants in the soil, whether it’s explosives deposited at military firing ranges or chemicals left behind by industry,” Farney said. “But to engineer stable bacteria that behave in predictable and desirable ways when released into the environment, a deeper understanding of how their genes are affected by the environment is essential.”

Farney’s project focuses on methylation, a biological process that can be triggered by environmental factors. Methylation adds chemicals known as methyl groups to an organism’s genome. This addition can affect how an organism’s genes are expressed. In bacteria, which are unicellular organisms that are abundant in nature, methylation is an important factor controlling gene expression.

Farney plans to investigate the effects of methylation on gene expression. P. putida in soil and in experimental systems using liquids containing organic matter extracted from soil. She also plans to build genetic circuits, networks of interacting genes and regulatory elements, and test engineered genes. P. putida under soil-like conditions.

As part of the project, Farney will create free educational resources to introduce synthetic biology to undergraduate students, develop materials for synthetic biology courses, and incorporate synthetic biology into research projects for undergraduate students in the lab. We plan to incorporate it. Project funding will also support the research activities of at least two of her graduate students per year and summer research opportunities for two to three undergraduate students per year.

This project builds on Farney’s previous research. cellular stress response, biological sensor May help remediate environmental pollutants, how to study bacteria. Fundamental knowledge gained from insights into cells and their environments could lead to advances in soil remediation to grow food for the planet’s growing population, making this research both important and compelling. Fernie said.

“I’ve always been fascinated by the interaction between cells and their environment,” Farney said. “This project investigates the interactions that can impact issues important to humanity. If we want to feed a growing population, we need clean drinking water from terrestrial sources, “We need to grow and regenerate the soil that we have grown. Synthetic bacteria are a good candidate for this study.”

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