SURF 2011: Design of Biomolecular Circuits Using Programmable Protein Scaffolds

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2011 SURF project description

  • Mentor: Richard Murray
  • Co-mentor: Emzo de los Santos

Synthetic biology has the potential to streamline the design of novel functions into biological organisms. While the experimental methods used are similar to conventional molecular biology, synthetic biology looks at biology with a different, engineering based paradigm. An important aspect of designing bimolecular circuits is the ability to control activity of a target protein. Current techniques in synthetic biology use transcriptional regulation to achieve this by reducing the amount of mRNA that is transcribed, affecting the overall protein amount and decreasing the total activity. However, transcriptional control operates on the minutes to hours time scale. It is desirable in some applications to have circuits that respond on the seconds time scale.

Natural systems achieve this through post-translational modifications such as phosphorylation, which is mediated through kinases. Most eukaryotic kinases are not particularly specific to a given protein and tend to phosphorylate proteins around their vicinity. In order to ensure the proper phosphorylation pairs, eukaryotic organisms use scaffolding proteins that bring together kinases and their desired targets. Modifying these scaffold proteins has been shown to rewire transcriptional circuits in yeast [Park et al; Science, 2003]. This project aims to explore the use of scaffolding proteins in the design of faster responding synthetic circuits.


  1. Park et al; Science 2003