In the Lab: Javier Fernandez Juárez Studies how Bacteria Read and Adapt to their Environment

At the Forsyth Institute, our researchers have the relentless drive to ask and answer new questions, and the freedom to follow their science wherever it leads. Recently, Javier Fernandez Juárez, Staff Research Investigator of Microbiology at Forsyth, questioned how microbiologists could best utilize bacteria’s ability to react and adapt when recognizing different molecules within their environments, and how these findings can be implemented to improve biotechnological and health applications. His comprehensive research on bacteria’s ability to read their environment and adapt accordingly through transcription factors (TFs; regulating agents tuning gene expression in response to stimuli), led him to answers that could significantly impact the larger scientific community.

Until now, only a small subset of known transcription factors was used by scientists for practical applications. Traditionally, the development of new TFs involved an advanced level of protein engineering requiring an expertise out of reach for many labs. With a dynamic and collaborative environment, Javier was able to focus acutely on maneuvering these proteins for functional and pragmatic uses. He developed a new gene assembly technology that will allow scientists to construct their own transcription factors for the recognition of, theoretically, any soluble small molecule. This straightforward pipeline primes researchers to construct tailor-made transcription factors to meet their specific research needs.  

This new technology allows labs across the country to utilize transcription factors as tools of innovation. So now, with this new tool in hand, researchers can focus on their practical applications, including the creation of sensitive biosensors that detect pollutants or the construction of medical systems that sense chemicals and trigger the release of a therapeutic compound.

The research does not stop there. Javier is already asking new questions and hopes soon to find those answers. Currently, he is designing whole-cell biosensors enabling the fast detection of local and global health markers in saliva.

Read more on Javier’s study in Nature Communications: Juárez JF, Lecube-Azpeitia B, Brown SL, Johnston CD, Church GM (2018) “Biosensor libraries harness large classes of binding domains for construction of allosteric transcription regulators."

Tuesday, August 7, 2018
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