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$1M NSF Grant to Advance the Study of Single-Molecule Research

BioE Professor Jeffrey Ruberti (co-PI) along with bioengineering affiliated and College of Science faculty, including Professor Mark Williams (PI), and Associate Professors Penny Beuning (co-PI), Meni Wanunu (co-PI), and Ke Zhang (co-PI) were awarded a $1M NSF grant for the "Acquisition of a Lumick's SuperC-TRAP correlative optical tweezers and fluorescence microscope (CTFM) system."

Abstract Source: NSF

An award is made to Northeastern University (NEU), with participants from New England Biolabs (NEB), Bridgewater State University, and Wellesley College, to purchase a Lumicks SuperC-TRAP correlative optical tweezers and fluorescence microscope (CTFM) for single-molecule research to manipulate and observe biological interactions at the molecular level. The projects using this instrument will introduce a diverse group of researchers in the laboratories of the participants, including undergraduate co-op researchers at NEU and NEB, to cutting edge interdisciplinary science. Due in part to the participation of major users from Wellesley College and Bridgewater State University, women and researchers from underserved communities will gain access to new research experiences. The CTFM instrument will be incorporated into two major undergraduate courses at NEU, in which students will have the opportunity to use the CTFM instrument and to design and test mutations on DNA-interacting motor proteins. Biannual workshops to attract and train regional users will be run by Lumicks and hosted by Northeastern, and the instrument will be advertised widely.

The CTFM instrument will allow users to measure and apply tension to single biomolecules with sub-picoNewton resolution, and to detect the presence, number, and position of individual fluorescently labeled molecules during these measurements in real time. This allows users to push or pull on biological systems and observe the reaction of the systems to force by using fluorescent labels. Simultaneously, the users can "feel" the reaction of the systems to these inputs through measurements of force or extension changes as the system responds to these inputs. Importantly, these observations reveal interactions at very small length scales, revealing activities of single proteins interacting with a substrate. Innovative projects at the forefront of interdisciplinary science will be enabled by this instrument, including projects to study how cellular DNA replication and repair of DNA damage occurs, how retroviruses copy their genomes, and how DNA is packaged (and can be unpackaged) in cells. Studies on collagen will probe how force affects tissue repair, while studies on polymer dynamics will use force to observe and direct protein assembly. The results of these studies will allow observation of real-time biological dynamics at the single molecule level, providing significant new insights into the functions of the biological systems probed.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Related Faculty: Jeffrey W. Ruberti, Penny Beuning, Meni Wanunu

Related Departments:Bioengineering