cheemeng-thumbCheemeng Tan, assistant professor of Biomedical Engineering at UC Davis School of Engineering, is one of 10 young investigator teams worldwide awarded a 2015 Young Investigator Grant from the Human Frontier Science Program to better understand dynamics of living organisms.

The 2015 competition involved a year-long selection process that began with more than 1011 letters of intent and nearly 80 full applications. Tan and his collaborator Dr. Michael Nash (Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich) will receive funding of $250,000 per year for the three-year project, which integrates synthetic biology, microfluidics, and single-molecule imaging for the study of cellulosome assembly. Both Tan and Nash are also Branco-Weiss Fellows funded by Society-in-Science (ETH Zurich).

Cellulosomes are protein networks used by anaerobic bacteria to digest cellulosic biomass. The protein networks consist of subunits that are held together by receptor-ligand pairs, some of which have similar affinities to the same binding sites. It remains unclear how cells modulate the assembly of cellulosomes. Studies of cellulosomes are hampered by a lack of tools to manipulate genetic components of native cellulosome-producing bacteria. Furthermore, to resolve these issues, studies of cellulosome assembly require nanoscale measurement methods.

“It is exciting to approach the challenges from the perspective of an engineer using state-of-the-art quantitative tools. Essentially, we will reconstruct cellular processes using synthetic components, while tracking the processes at the single-molecule level.” Tan said.
Tan and Nash will apply an innovative approach that combines synthetic biology and single-molecule imaging to study cellulosome assembly. Their results will establish a foundation toward studying system dynamics of native cellulosome-producing bacteria. Furthermore, the results will unravel general principles of how genetic networks modulate the assembly of biological structures. The research will have fundamental impact on bio-energy and synthetic biology.