Manipulating Cells: Innovative Research at Georgia Tech
Newman, Jonathan P.
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[Doyle] Nuclear hormone receptors control the expression of genes in response to small molecule hormones. In performing this activity, the receptors must specifically recognize small molecules, DNA, and other proteins. The amino acids that recognize each of these substrates are varied using genetic engineering techniques until a receptor with novel recognition is created. The original and new receptors are studied using a variety of biophysical techniques to elucidate the principles behind the new activity. This exercise provides both new knowledge for future protein engineering and real materials for research and medical applications.[Storici] Research involves using the model organism Saccharomyces cerevisiae and mammalian cells to characterize the molecular mechanisms involved in the repair of broken DNA and to develop more effective and safe technologies of genome modification as unique tools for structure/function studies as well as for medical and industrial applications.[Newman] A recently introduced set of genetic methods, collectively known as "optogenetics", has allowed major advances in our ability to manipulate electrical activity in neural circuits. Using these tools, neuroscientists can force genetically-defined cell types to express light sensitive proteins which can then be used to activate or silence those cells when exposed to light. I will discuss how the Potter Lab at Georgia Tech uses optogenetic tools to enable real-time control of electrical signaling in large neuronal populations. These techniques are being used to answer fundamental questions concerning the proper maturation of cortical circuitry in the developing brain.