Home > Nanotechnology Columns > UAlbany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering > Using Nanotechnology to Study the Human Genome
As a trained molecular biologist, virologist and cancer biologist, my research at CNSE exploits nanotechnology to study the Human Genome and discover how the recipes of life are turned into flesh and blood. We are also working to develop new methods for studying the spread of cancer from the primary site of a tumor (metastasis) and the inner workings of the single-cell to enhance stem-cell biology research.
March 5th, 2010
Using Nanotechnology to Study the Human Genome
My research program at CNSE is focused on understanding some of the basic aspects of how the human genome works. In the early part of this century, the Human Genome Sequencing Project finished the draft version of the human genome, containing ~3 billion nucleotides that form the building blocks of our DNA. Essentially, we can divide the human genome into two parts, ingredients (genes) and recipes (regulatory elements). Most of genetics research has focused on understanding gene function and how mutations in them can cause disease. However, genes (ingredients) represent less than 5% of our genome. Using cutting-edge nanotechnology, our research is part of a new and growing movement focused on unraveling the mysteries of the regulatory information contained in our genome and how this information is used to make the recipes of life. Our research program is part of a leading frontier of genomics focused on studying the 95% of the genome we previously thought of as the "junk" in our DNA.
Specifically, our research focus is on what is called post-transcriptional gene regulation. We study regulatory information in the human genome that functions at the level of RNA, the intermediary molecule of life that is used to transfer the genetic material contained in our DNA, into the proteins that makes our cells and tissues. Our research is focused on the field of RNA biology and more specifically on RNA-binding proteins, the molecules that regulate the information contained within the RNA. Together with my research team, we have helped advance many of the cutting-edge technology and informatic approaches needed to comprehensively study this new and exciting area of biology. Our work was selected as one of only a handful of research teams to be part of the Encyclopedia of DNA Elements, (ENCODE) project, which is a primary initiative of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The ENCODE project involves a consortium of researchers working together to produce genomic-scale data for the greater scientific community and is atypical for the biomedical sciences in that the projects are milestone and delivery driven as opposed to hypothesis-based research and a premium is placed on the development of new technology. In this respect, the ENCODE project is much more in line with the approaches typically seen in the semiconductor industry and in the nanotechnology industry. Team-science, as practiced on genome-scale projects like ENCODE, offers a somewhat unique opportunity for the biomedical scientific community. As with the semiconductor industry, it facilitates the completion of large, complex projects that benefit the entire research community.
I was trained as a molecular biologist with an emphasis on viral causes of disease cancer biology and genomics. I joined CNSE about a year ago to take advantage of the tremendous technological potential that nanotechnology offers to the biomedical community. Since then, my life can best be described as a "kid in a candy store."
We are developing a novel NanoImmuno Wafer that uses a multiplexed, high-throughput assay approach that enables the simultaneous survey or capture of multiple proteins/nucleic acids of interest in a single reaction. This technology focuses on the fabrication of multiporous structures from a variety of materials including silicon, aluminum, SU8, etc. that serve as a host matrix to help in the attachment, filtering and analysis of selected chemicals of interest. The ability to create a high surface area in a minimal volume space makes this approach ideal for high-throughput, biological processing applications.
Additionally, in collaboration with CNSE Associate Head of the Nanoscience ConstellationTim Groves, we are using E-beam lithography to develop a cancer metastasis wafer that will allow us to separate highly mobile, aggressive cancer cells from less so ones. This could prove to be an extremely useful diagnostic tool, but will also allow us to study the genetic process that enables cancer metastasis to occur. With this understanding, one day we may be able to prevent this terrible disease.
Lastly, we are working with CNSE Empire Innovation Professor of Nanoscale Engineering Ji-Ung Lee, a world-class nanotube fabricator, to develop technology for the study of gene-expression in the single-cell. This would represent a tremendous breakthrough in our ability to understand how the recipes of life are expressed and how stem-cells can be turned into any tissue or cell type in the body.