Megan Gillespie – Fellow

“Acting as the Dr. Frankenstein of Proteins”

 Have you ever looked at nature and thought how can I use that plant, animal, etc. and put it to work for me?  Did you ever think stories such as the X-Men or Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles could be possible?  Most of the time nature seems to be the parent making decisions (mother nature), and living organisms the children having to play by her rules.  But this is not always true.  Actually, throughout history humans have been making their own changes that can benefit society like domesticating animals and selectively improving plants for agriculture.  Now scientists use new tools that make this process faster and easier.

My research involves using proteins, which are the working parts of living cells. Proteins have properties that allow them to do a particular job, such as detecting substances.   What I do is mutate the protein to improve its ability to detect a substance and generate energy.   One of the proteins I work with is Glucose Oxidase.  In nature this protein binds glucose, a simple sugar, and when this happens electrons are transferred from glucose to the protein and this can be detected.  This is how glucometers work to measure the blood sugar levels in diabetics.  One problem with this set up is that oxygen gas acts as a thief and steals electrons that can be used for measurement and energy.  I change the protein so it can protect itself from losing electrons. By replacing one of my protein’s building blocks (amino acid) it is harder for oxygen to steal the electrons so in the future the protein may have the ability to power devices implanted into the body.

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