WashU engineer to design model to regulate gene expression

Biological engineers and scientists who work in cellular engineering and molecular biology may soon have a new reliable tool to use to regulate gene expression in bacteria.

Tae Seok Moon

Tae Seok Moon, an expert in synthetic biology at Washington University in St. Louis, has received a three-year, $425,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a tool that will act as a gene regulator. This regulator is called antisense ribonucleic acid (asRNA), a small RNA used to block production of specific proteins when it is bound to messenger RNA (mRNA), which convey genetic information to other parts of cells.

Although asRNA naturally exists in many bacteria, it has been used in a limited number of bacteria to engineer their cellular processes, and Moon wants to provide the research community with a generalizable RNA regulator and its design principle.

“I want to develop a generalizable RNA regulator that can be used to understand and engineer diverse biotechnologically important bacteria,” said Moon, an assistant professor of energy, environmental & chemical engineering. “I want to expand the RNA regulator by developing its design principle. In other words, I aim to determine what would be a reliable regulator to repress the gene expression in an efficient and predictable way.”

Once he develops the regulator, he plans to test it in different bacteria, then build a predictive model. Once the model is tested, he will then make it available to other engineers and scientists who investigate and engineer diverse cellular processes, including gene regulation, metabolism and pathogenesis.

In addition, Moon will create teaching kits for local high school science teachers to introduce synthetic biology.

The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 98 tenured/tenure-track and 38 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, 1,200 graduate students and 20,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.