AfroBiotech, a new conference series founded by Dr. Karmella Haynes (Emory University) and co-chaired by Dr. Manu Platt (Georgia Tech), was launched by an inaugural meeting on October 27-29, 2019 in Atlanta, GA at the Hyatt Centric Midtown hotel. This year, the conference will be held as a virtual event October 26 – 28, 2020 to provide a safe and accessible event for the biotech community. The conference is organized by the Society for Biological Engineering (SBE), part of the American Institute for Chemical Engineers (AIChE).
Thanks to our generous sponsors, registration is free! Once you register, you can access the virtual conference through the AfroBiotech 2020 portal.
Kierra Franklin has joined the Haynes lab this fall as a PhD student from the GA Tech/ Emory graduate program. Kierra got an early start with industrial biotech as a college intern at Chimera BioEngineering in California. She earned her B.S. in Chemical Engineering at Stanford University in Stanford, CA in 2017. Since then she has been an intern at Genentech Inc. (2017-2018) and a Biochemistry Research Assistant at Codexis Inc. (2018-2019). She has earned several awards including Presidents Fellow, Laney Fellow, Women in Natural Sciences Fellow, and Centennial Scholar. Welcome to the Haynes lab! We look forward to working with you.
Dr. Haynes was interviewed by Dr. Alok Patel for a documentary called “Gene Editing Reality Check,” which aired on PBS/ NOVA on September 9, 2020. Dr. Haynes, who has investigated the behavior of CRISPR in the context of the human nucleus, was asked to comment on the current practical limitations of CRISPR. The remainder of the documentary discusses how other scientists are working to improve CRISPR, as well as the ethical implications of gene editing in human cells. A special thank-you to the production team for a brilliantly coordinated COVID-safe taping session online: Caitlin Saks, Ana Acevees, and Jay Colamaria. Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8vi_PdGrKg&t=688s
- Coming soon.
Dr. Isioma Enwerem will join the Haynes lab this Fall as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow. She earned her B.S. in Chemistry at Spelman College in Atlanta, GA, her M.S. in Chemistry at Jackson State University in Jackson, MS, her Ph.D. in Biochemistry at The University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, MS, and completed a 4-year postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Minnesota. Welcome to Emory! We are honored to have you on board, Dr. Enwerem.
Dr. Haynes is featured in a biographical article about her career path leading up to her current work in chromatin epigenetic engineering at Emory University. The article is published in “Grow,” a new bioengineering magazine from the Boston-based biotech company Gingko Bioworks. The article “The Cell Conductor” uses music composition and tuning to describe the dynamics of gene expression in healthy and cancer cells, and to explain Dr. Haynes’ approach to control gene behavior through protein engineering. She also shares some pivotal moments in her life, including overcoming barriers of racial discrimination and marginalization, and invaluable scientific training opportunities.
- Neimark J. 06.23.2020. “The Cell Conductor.” Grow Magazine.
Cara Shields has joined the Haynes lab this summer as a PhD graduate student from the Emory GDBBS Cancer Biology program. She will be co-advised by Dr. Haynes and Dr. Robert Schnepp. Cara earned her B.B. in Molecular Biology at the University of Tampa in Tampa, FL. Welcome to the Haynes lab! We look forward to working with you.
Dr. Natecia Williams (Senior Research Specialist) has been working on producing batches of epigenetic sensor-actuator proteins that can penetrate human cells, which we hope to use to treat cancer. First recombinant DNA (plasmid pTXB1), constructed by Harrison Priode (Research Specialist I), that encodes a cell-penetrating polycomb transcription factor (CP-PcTF) is transformed into E. coli cells (illustration, left). The transformed cells are grown as a large culture (200 mL) and show a characteristic beige color when they are concentrated at the bottom of a flask (left photo). When an inducer chemical is added (IPTG), this activates production of the CP-PcTF protein. CP-PcTF includes a red fluorescent protein, which looks magenta under white light (right photo).
Next, Dr. Williams will gently break open the cells to release the proteins, use a special resin to capture the CP-PcTF proteins by a “handle” on the end of each protein (column-binding tag), and purify the proteins to eliminate cell residue. She will add the purified proteins to triple negative breast cancer cells in culture plates to determine how effectively the proteins enter nuclei and alter the expression of genes. If these experiments are successful we will test CP-PcTF in mice that carry breast cancer tumors. We will continue to post updates on this and other exciting projects!
Research – bioRxiv – Delivery of cell-penetrating chromatin sensor-actuators to human osteosarcoma cells
Delivery of cell-penetrating chromatin sensor-actuators to human osteosarcoma cells
Tekel SJ, Brookhouser N, Haynes KA. (2020) bioRxiv. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.02.28.969907
Recent research has revealed that a key vulnerability in hard-to-treat cancer cells (e.g. triple negative breast cancer) may be chromatin, a system of proteins and nucleic acids that controls chromosome organization and gene expression. Small molecule drugs called epigenetic inhibitors can easily get into the nucleus to disrupt chromatin in cancer, but these molecules do not carry enough biological information to direct specific changes in gene expression. This unmet need inspired us to build artificial transcription factors that could be delivered to cells in a similar manner as soluble drugs, bind to aberrant chromatin, and induce gene activation. In this report, we describe how the addition of short cell-penetrating signal to the chromatin sensor-actuator PcTF enabled 100% uptake in cultured cells (monolayers), and up to 50% uptake by cells grown as spheroids (used to represent tumors). For gene activation, these cell-penetrating PcTF proteins did not appear to be as effective as the PcTF protein we had expressed from synthetic DNA in past experiments. Further technical development is needed to deliver functional PcTF regulators into cancer cell nuclei.
Dr. Haynes was invited to Davidson College to present a seminar and to teach a lecture, both related to her work in chromatin epigenetic engineering. On Monday morning, February 10, 202 she visited the Genomics course, taught by Debbie Thurtle-Schmidt. Dr. Haynes’ lecture focused on how evolutionary variations of Polycomb proteins across species were used to identify histone-binding modules that have recently been used as molecular tools (fusion proteins) (Tekel 2018). That evening, Dr. Haynes presented a seminar “Genomic analysis to achieve multi-gene regulation by chromatin design,” as part of the Genomics Program seminar series. Her seminar explained how the fusion proteins she discussed in the Genomics class were used in cancer cells to co-regulate sets of genes, and how bioinformatics methods were used to evaluate changes in gene expression.
The visit was also a reunion with past mentors and colleagues including Malcolm Campbell, and Laurie Heyer. Dr. Haynes was an HHMI supported postdoc/ lecturer at Davidson College from 2006-2008, where she began her training in synthetic biology and inquiry-driven college classroom teaching.
Dr. Haynes has been invited to give a talk, “Chromatin epigenetic engineering: combining synthetic biology with molecular bioinformatics,” at the Quantitative Biology Seminar Series hosted by the Quantitative Biology (qBio) program at the University of California San Diego (UCSD) on Monday, January 27, 2020. The qBio PhD track is designed to equip quantitatively-inclined students with the knowledge and skills necessary to carry out quantitative, multi-faceted investigations of living systems.