Scientists solve chemical mystery at the interface of biology and technology

Researchers who want to bridge the divide between biology and technology spend a lot of time thinking about translating between the two different “languages” of those realms. “Our digital technology operates through a series of electronic on-off switches that control the flow of current and voltage,” said Rajiv Giridharagopal, a research scientist at the University of Washington. “But our bodies operate on chemistry. In our brains, neurons propagate signals electrochemically, by moving ions — charged atoms or molecules — not electrons.”

AI shown to dramatically speed protein engineering

Study findings promise to shift the field away from trial-and-error approach and toward computational approaches. Protein engineering scientists have been able to use machine learning to design proteins that are more efficient at performing a biochemical task. This approach shortened a process that typically takes months to years of trial and error.  Currently, researchers design proteins by introducing mutations into a protein’s amino acid sequence in the hope those mutations will give the protein a desired property or function. They then must repeatedly test the resulting mutant proteins in the lab.

Using computers to design proteins allows researchers to make tunable hydrogels that can form both inside and outside of cells

images of two cells. The cell on the right contains hydrogels decorated with Green Fluorescent Protein (green blobs), whereas the cell on the left does not because it is missing one of the hydrogel building blocks
New research led by the University of Washington demonstrates a new class of hydrogels that can form not just outside cells, but also inside of them. Hydrogels are made up of protein building blocks linked together. Shown here are images of two cells. The cell on the right contains hydrogels decorated with Green Fluorescent Protein (green blobs), whereas the cell on the left does not because it is missing one of the hydrogel building blocks (green is everywhere in the cell).Mout
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Q&A with Suzie H. Pun, new director of MolES

Suzie H. Pun is the Washington Research Professor of Bioengineering, a fellow in the U.S. National Academy of Inventors (NAI) and American Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE), and now, the new director of the Molecular Engineering & Sciences Institute (MolES). Pun has been a major part of MolES since it opened in 2009 -- contributing to the growth of research collaborations and the Ph.D. program.