MolES researchers answer questions about molecular engineering in Reddit AMA

Filed Under: MolE PhDNews

Graduate students, staff, and faculty from MolES recently participated in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) about molecular engineering to help raise awareness about this growing discipline. Redditors from around the globe asked awesome questions – find some of our favorites below!

How does molecular engineering differ from synthetic or molecular biology? – /u/huh_phd

While there is some overlap between molecular engineering and synthetic or molecular biology, molecular engineering encompasses so much more. Molecular engineering is related to any type of molecule whether that be small molecules, polymers, or biologically relevant systems. Applications are very diverse ranging from molecules for energy harvesting, energy storage, photonics, quantum materials, drug delivery, etc. etc. The application areas are endless. – Christine Luscombe, Materials Science & Engineering Professor

How does your program differentiate itself from the other molecular engineering programs currently available? – /u/SuburbanSponge

Well….there are not many programs like us! I would say one of the largest differences between UW and UChicago is that UW draws in faculty from across 20+ different departments, helping match student research interests with faculty from the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Medicine, the College of Engineering, and the School of Pharmacy (and some from external non-profits and local research Institutes in the Seattle area). – Paul Neubert, MolE Ph.D. Program Advisor

What are the recent advances in molecular engineering that you think could have a use in medicine or medical treatments?

There are so many advances being made everyday in molecular engineering that have translational impact on the medical world. Creating mechanisms for efficient drug delivery is one focus of labs at UW such as Elizabeth Nance with blood-brain barrier research, David Baker with targeted protein design, Suzie Pun with aptamer directed delivery, and Pat Stayton with antibody-strepavidin conjugates. – Nam Phuong Nguyen, Second year MolE Ph.D. student

Is there a pathway to do molecular engineering from a biology undergrad degree? – /u/aelin_farseer

Of course! We have many graduate students in our program who did not come from an engineering major from undergrad. Molecular Engineering really is just a framework that you will learn here in order to apply it to your thesis research, which could be pure biology!

For UW, we actually have a “BioTech” track that is very oriented towards Biology. The core class that you take in your first year help to give you the tools that Molecular Engineers have been using, and have had success in using. In the “BioTech” track, these classes are Introduction to Synthetic Biology, Molecular Engineering Principles, and Advanced Molecular Engineering. – Nam Phuong Nguyen, Second year MolE Ph.D. student

I can see how engineering systems on small scales is super useful for biology (RNA/DNA-scale) and energy systems (electron mobility, atomic-scales). It also seems like all those principals can cross over beautifully. Is there any research that uses principles from biology for energy-applications? Or vice versa? – /u/wholion

Great question. There is a lot of interest in engineering biology for energy applications and vice versa — the lines are blurring because once you get to the level of engineering molecules, then biological and electrical systems can efficiently interact with one another. Here's an interesting example: The US Department of Energy is funding a new program that they call EcoSynBio, where the goal is to use synthetic biology to engineer systems that can use electrochemical reducing equivalents (i.e., sources of electrons) to capture CO2 and make useful chemicals and materials. – MolE Ph.D. student

In what aspects do you think 3d printing a scaffolding to be repopulated by cells is more effective than using a decelularized organ human, animal or vegetal? Seems like animal or vegetal have a strong availability of resources and that using vegetal tissue as scaffolding can allow to produce most shapes through sculpting like some researchers have done using apple to produce cartilage with the shape of an ear for example, in what aspects of the process is 3d printing an advantage? -/u/carlos_6m

Biomaterials for 3D printing, whether they are synthetic or bio-based, is an important and growing field of research. For tissue engineering applications, all of these approaches require the cultivation of human cells within a hydrogel matrix, and understanding the interactions at the molecular and macro-molecular scale is critical to engineering these materials. The advantage of 3D printing is that it offers the ability to create patient-specific shapes and geometries. Sculpting an ear, for example, is one approach, but customized 3D printing of an ear could be the future. – Alshakim Nelson, Assistant Professor of Chemistry, MolES Director of Education