Faculty Mentor: Hadley D. Sikes
Home University: UC Berkeley
Major: Chemical Engineering
I am originally from the San Francisco Bay Area. As a senior majoring in Chemical Engineering at UC Berkeley, my research interests involve applications of synthetic biology, namely redesigning and engineering biological systems that have useful and interesting capabilities in our healthcare and, ultimately, our society. My goals are to enroll in either a Chemical Engineering or Bioengineering Ph.D. program to become a pioneer in this emerging field and inspire others to pursue careers in science and engineering. In my spare time I enjoy traveling to new places, learning to play piano, cooking new dishes, playing Fruit Ninja on Xbox Kinect, and watching Breaking Bad (my all-time favorite show).
Methyl binding domain engineering to enable clinically appropriate DNA epigenotyping assays
Methylation of CpG dinucleotides in gene promoters has been shown to be an epigenetic repressor of gene expression and contributes to the development of cancer. Since core members of the MBD protein family (MBD1, MBD2, MBD3, and MeCP2) specifically bind methylated CpGs in DNA through their methyl-CpG binding domain (MBD), we are interested in using these proteins as reagents in epigenotyping assays of patient-derived nucleic acid samples. However, current commercially available MBDs do not have sufficient binding affinities to enable routine pull-down of sequences from the small amounts of patient-derived DNA that may be collected non-invasively, and they are expensive to produce. In order to systematically improve the technologic and clinical utility of these MBD proteins, the goal of our current work is to establish a platform to engineer these domains, including high-throughput, quantitative characterization of binding constants and facile determination of thermostability and soluble expression levels. Our future work in engineering these proteins should result in picomolar to nanomolar affinities of engineered variants for methylated DNA, which will facilitate the development of widely accessible diagnostics that require minimal invasiveness.