Hierarchically organized biominerals are characteristic of many aquatic microeukaryotes. Marine diatoms are single-celled microalgae responsible for ~20% of planetary primary production. A hallmark feature of diatom biology is their exquisitely shaped biosilica cell wall. Despite much progress in deciphering the molecular and cellular mechanisms of this vesicle-based, sunlight-driven biomineralization pathway, knowledge gaps remain. Studying biosilica morphogenesis in these environmentally ubiquitous organisms is advancing our understanding of global nutrient cycles and inspiring nanotechnology and biomaterials science research. Undergraduate researchers will work alongside a postdoctoral scientist with diatom biology expertise to design, build, and test novel protein expression vectors for genetic engineering of Thalassiosira pseudonana, a model marine diatom. This work will expand the potential of this relatively nascent microalgal model system for basic biology discoveries and biotechnology advances.
The primary project will involve characterizing a set of constitutive and inducible promoters in Thalassiosira pseudonana. Fluorescent proteins alone and as translational fusions with known and predicted biosilica-localized proteins will be delivered to Thalassiosira pseudonana using bacterial conjugation. The resulting diatom strains will be screened for fluorescence. Mentees will have the opportunity to learn about all aspects of diatom biology, biomineralization, and synthetic biology research. They will apply (1) polymerase chain reaction (PCR) for molecular cloning and genotyping, (2) Escherichia coli engineering to prepare conjugation donors, (3) bacterial conjugation to transform Thalassiosira pseudonana, and (4) fluorescence microscopy to characterize engineered diatom strains. Students will be encouraged to think beyond their immediate work and come up with ideas for future (independent) projects. Thus, the outlined aims may evolve depending on students’ interests and project progress.
Interest in at least one, ideally more, of the following: (marine) microbiology, unconventional (microbial) model systems, natural materials, molecular, cell, and synthetic biology. Hours are negotiable, but a commitment of at least 10 hours per week is expected