The BioTECH Quarterly
Engineering Proteins with BE.109
By Brian Chase '06, Managing editor
One of the foundational courses of the new Biological Engineering Major at MIT is BE.109, Laboratory Fundamentals of Biological Engineering. The class introduces students new to laboratory work to both critical thinking and technical skills they will need for BE research and in the new major.
BE.109 is organized into four experimental modules: DNA Engineering, Protein Engineering, Systems Engineering, and Bio-material Engineering. With each module, students explore scientific and engineering questions through a series of investigative experiments. For example, in the DNA Engineering module, students modify the gene for Enhanced Green Fluorescent Protein (EGFP) to eliminate the first 32 amino acids of the protein. The students then transfect their DNA construct into mouse embryonic stem cells to investigate its recombination with another EGFP construct that was truncated in a complementary way. In the Protein Engineering module, students induce bacterial expression of a well-characterized and commonly used enzyme, beta-galactosidase, and modify it with an unnatural amino acid to introduce structures and perhaps activities not available using the cellís natural amino acids. Students purify their modified protein from cells using either standard methods (Ni-agarose) or a novel reagent (an antibody linked to paramagnetic beads) that was provided to the class from a company in California. Upcoming experiments will allow students to take pictures with bacteria using specialized cells capable of responding to light. Still later in the term they will identify protein sequences displayed on yeast that confer binding to gold and other precious metals. The pictures surrounding this article depict the students of BE.109 modifying proteins and making new discoveries.
BE.109 is redesigned each year. According to the course instructors, approximately half of the course material is new each time the class is taught. In this way the experiments remain fresh and investigative, bringing updated techniques and research goals into the class. This empowers the students to make real discoveries rather than work on proof of principle efforts that recapitulate what is already known. The wiki-based website www.openwetware.org/wiki/BE.109 further encourages students in BE.109 to invest themselves in improving the class and sharing their work with each other.
The BioTECH Staff would like to thank Instructor Natalie Kuldell, for reviewing this article about her course.
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