Controlling microbial growth with a light switch

Review written by Olivia Duddy (MOL, G5)

Microbes are powerful tools in the biotechnology industry. Like microscopic factories, microbes are employed to manufacture a diversity of chemical compounds, such as industrial chemicals, food products, drugs, and other biotechnology molecules, on a large scale. Given the ease of genetic engineering in microbes like Escherichia coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae, scientists and metabolic engineers alike tinker with their metabolic capacities, or even completely rewire them, to yield high concentrations of a specific product [1]. Metabolic engineers aim to maximize the efficiency of these biosynthetic processes. High efficiency, in turn, delivers biomolecules that are more readily available and at a lower cost. Metabolic engineering applications also can be more sustainable or environmentally friendly than traditional chemical synthesis approaches [1,2]. Recently, a team of researchers in the Avalos lab, led by former Ph.D. candidate Makoto Lalwani (now postdoctoral researcher at the Wyss Institute), added an additional layer of genetic engineering to this process: They are using light as a strategy to advance biomolecule production [3].

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Infectious mosquitoes decode the unique smell of humans to pick their next meal

Review written by Olivia Duddy (MOL, G4)

Some mosquitoes are picky eaters. For example, females of the mosquito subspecies Aedes aegypti preferentially select humans over non-human animals as their blood host (only females mosquitoes bite). The consequence of Ae. aegypti’s preference for humans is its emergence as a global driver for the spread of infectious diseases like dengue, yellow fever, and Zika. So what attracts this mosquito so strongly to humans? Your smell. 

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Designing a molecular light switch

Review by Abigail Stanton (MOL, G1)

Living things are composed of an intricate set of chemical machinery, each piece refined over billions of years of evolution to perform the tasks required to grow, reproduce, act, and react. A principal challenge of biochemistry is understanding how each microscopic gear (or protein) works within the dynamic context of a larger machine (the cell and, eventually, the organism as a whole). To dissect these complex pathways, researchers need ways to interact with the cell. They need tools that act like molecular tweezers to remove pieces, to change them, and to turn mechanisms on and off. As our understanding of each component grows, our biochemical toolbox expands, allowing for even more biological discoveries, which in turn allows for the development of ever more sophisticated tools. 

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