“Bridging the gap between synthetic and systems biology.”
The Noyes lab focuses the development and application of selection techniques to comprehensively interrogate large synthetic libraries of proteins. One goal of the research is to use this information to design synthetic proteins with novel functions. Our first application of this approach has been to engineer zinc finger DNA-binding proteins to specify desired sequences of DNA. These artificial factors can be used to target activators or repressor to site-specifically control gene expression. In addition, these engineered domains are able to direct DNA-modifying enzymes such as methyltransferases, recombinases or nucleases to specific loci with the ultimate goal of enabling safe and efficient genome editing for therapeutic and experimental application.
A second goal of our research is to use this information to better understand what these protein domains are capable of and to predict the function of like proteins within their endogenous systems. In this way we apply synthetic biology to understand proteins such as transcription factors and how they impact the networks they influence. Can we use purely synthetic information to predict and model endogenous function? One interesting side question that has arisen from this type of approach is as follows. If we know all of the possible functions a protein domain is capable of, why are so few often utilized in nature?