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Can Humans Learn How to Grow Back Limbs?
4.3M Grant to Expand Biomanufacturing Trainings
Studying Comparative Healthcare in London

Decoding the Building Blocks

The average person has about 36 billion cells and organisms in their body.

Contained within a tiny fraction of this organic material are the DNA, the blueprints and instructions needed to keep the body regulated, from cell division and organ health, to immune system upkeep and respiration.

Our bodies are walking, talking, functioning reminders that relative size has no bearing on importance or relevance, and that some of the most powerful forces in the universe exist at the smallest level.

All life on Earth depends on biochemical reactions and processes such as these, whether it’s the building of complex proteins in your cells or the conversion of energy by photosynthesis in plants. Life is a cycle and network of biochemical activity.

The Northeastern biochemistry program incorporates the fields of physics, biology, chemistry, and mathematics to provide a holistic understanding of the mechanisms of life at every scale.

Coursework and Requirements
A sampling of the types of courses you could take here.
Cell and Molecular Biology
BIOL 4707

Integrates molecular biology and biochemistry in the cellular context. Focuses on the organization and function of eukaryotic cells, including the regulation of nuclear structure and gene expression, signal transduction, protein synthesis and growth, cellular energetics, the cytoskeleton and cell motility, cell division, and cell death. Emphasizes the scientific methodologies and approaches that underlie discovery in cell biology.

Genetics and Molecular Biology
BIOL 2301

Focuses on mechanisms of inheritance, gene-genome structure and function, and developmental genetics and evolution. Examples are drawn from the broad spectrum of plants, animals, fungi, bacteria, and viruses. Topics and analytical approaches include transmission genetics, molecular biology and gene regulation, DNA molecular methods, quantitative and population genetics, bioinformatics, genomics, and proteomics.

Introduction to Protein Chemistry
CHEM 4620

Introduces protein chemistry in the context of molecular medicine. Discusses analytical methods used to elucidate the origin, structure, function, and purification of proteins. Surveys the synthesis and chemical properties of structurally and functionally diverse proteins, including globular, membrane, and fibrous proteins. Discusses the role of intra- and intermolecular interactions in determining protein conformation, protein folding, and in their enzymatic activity.

Magnify your Learning with Co-op

Starting around sophomore year, Northeastern’s unique co-operative education program allows biochemistry students to explore different pathways and potential careers both locally and around the globe. Hear what previous biochemistry students had to say about their experience with the program:

Brian Cortese, Biochemistry’19

“There’s a lot more to it than just learning the bench and the skills, it’s about how to think, it’s about meeting new people, and it’s really all about the mentorship that will help you reach your potential long term.”

Zoe Bishop, Biochemistry Major

“My first co-op PI was on the admissions board for Harvard Medical School– talk about friends in high places! He’s helped me make important decisions, and I’m very thankful for that level of mentorship.”

Kalil Menezes, Biochemistry Major

Co-op took me to Belgium where I spent weekdays in the neuroscience lab and weekends making unforgettable memories with friends.


Faculty Research

Cram Lab
The Cram Laboratory utilizes the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans as an in vivo system to examine how mechanical forces are sensed and interpreted by cells and how this influences cell migration. In  addition, they collaborate with Chemical Engineers to improve production of drug compound..
Ebong Lab
The Ebong Lab studies the means by which endothelial cell mechanotransduction occurs in order to prevent or promote atherosclerosis
Godoy Lab
The Godoy lab seeks to learn about the mechanism(s) regulating the activity of potentially mutagenic DNA polymerases.
Shefelbine Lab
The Shefelbine Lab studies multiscale mechanics and musculoskeletal mechanobiology.
Slavov Laboratory
The Slavov Lab studies Ribosome-mediated translational regulation, and single-cell proteomics by mass-spectrometry
Theoretical Soft Matter and Biophysics Group
This reearch group is interested in understanding collective and emergent behavior in out-of-equilibrium and disordered systems. The research employs methods in theoretical and computation condensed matter physics and applies to a wide range of biological and non-biological systems.
Biomedical Optics Research Group
This group studies biomedical optics and non-invasive imaging, rare cell detection and tracking in the body, ultrafast time-domain diffuse optical imaging, image reconstruction and biomedical signal processing.
Respiratory Innovation and Simulation Team
This lab combines state-of-the-art experimental and numerical methods to quantify the health impacts of inhaled toxins (e.g. e-cigs) or to optimize inhaled therapeutics.
Ondrechen Research Group
Prof. Ondrechen’s research group spans the areas of theoretical and computational chemistry, computational biology, bioinformatics, protein design, and drug discovery. Areas of interest include functional genomics – predicting the biochemical functional roles of gene products (proteins), protei..
Sage Lab
Professor Sage’s research is motivated by a fascination with the physical basis for the function of proteins. He develops and applies novel spectroscopic approaches to understand the structure, dynamics, and function of biological macromolecules.
Spring Lab
Professor Spring’s group bridges biophysics, biomedical optics and cancer biology to selectively target micrometastases left behind by standard therapies that limit our ability to cure many cancers.
Neurogeometry Lab
Research in this lab is aimed at understanding the basic brain functions and principles of synaptic connectivity in the cerebral cortex through the quantitative analysis of neuron morphology.
Venkatachalam Lab
Studies of the neurophysiology of C. elegans from its birth to adulthood, which reveals the detailed relationship between the developing nervous system and the animal behavior. Advanced neurotechnology and microscopy techniques are used to measure large populations of neurons in freely beh..
Whitford Research Group
Professor Whitford’s research probes the energetic properties of biomolecular dynamics through a combination of theoretical modeling and high-performance computing (HPC). His investigations of biomolecular order-disorder transitions and energy transduction processes span from protein and ribo..
Cell & tissue Engineering Lab (CEL)
The Asthagiri lab investigates how cancer cells acquire the ability to invade their surroundings, a key early step in the lethal progression to metastasis. They seek to identify robust therapeutic strategies to target cancer cells whose heterogeneity and plasticity make them a "moving target."
Auguste Lab
The Auguste lab engineers solutions to address current challenges in medicine. They design, synthesize, and evaluate new biomaterials that change the way we deliver drugs and cells.
Molecular Bioelectrostatics & Drug Delivery Laboratory
The Bajpayee lab works on drug delivery to connective and charged tissues such as cartilage, meniscus, intervertebral disc and mucosal membranes.
Laboratory for Advanced and Multifunctional Polymeric Biomaterials
The overall focus of the research in the Bencherif LAMP Biomaterials Laboratory is the fundamental understanding and development of polymeric materials for biomedical applications with a specific emphasis on tissue engineering, drug delivery, and cancer immunotherapy.
Advanced Drug Delivery Research Lab
The ADDRES Lab studies interactions between materials and biological systems, with a current focus on the intestinal environment, via development of theoretical and tissue-engineered cell culture models. 
Goluch Group
The primary focus of this research is the development of detection strategies that are tailored for the micro and nanoscale, with emphasis on biological systems.
Laboratory for Neuromodulation and Neuromuscular Repair
This research focuses on the intersectionality between biomaterials, electronics, nerves, and the heart.
Lee-Parsons Research Laboratory Website
This research group is applying metabolic engineering principles and methodologies to improve the production of important compounds, i.e. critical plant-derived pharmaceuticals or biofuels, from plant cell & tissue cultures and microalgae cultures.
Detrich Lab
One central strategy of the Detrich Lab's work is the comparative approach to adaptational evolutionary biology – they use phylogenetically controlled contrasts to evaluate molecular causation in natural experiments, such as the evolution of proteins to function efficiently at cold temperatur..
Lotterhos Lab
The Lotterhos Lab at Northeastern Marine Science Center seeks to understand how climate has shaped marine biodiversity and how a now rapidly changing climate will affect biodiversity in the future.
Vollmer Lab
This research group studies the evolution and ecology of marine organisms using cutting-edge, next-generation sequencing, which had revolutionized molecular genetics by providing unprecedented access to the genetic variation in any organism’s genome or transcriptome.
Amiji Group
The  research effort in the Laboratory of Biomaterials and Advanced Nano-Delivery Systems (BANDS) is focused on the development of biocompatible materials from natural and synthetic polymers, target-specific drug and gene delivery systems for cancer, CNS, inflammatory, and infectious diseases, and..
Epstein Lab
The Epstein lab works on microbial discovery in the environment and human microbiome. They uncover novel microbial life forms by inventing novel cultivation strategies that depart from conventional wisdom and provide access to the greatest part of microbial diversity: unexplored species missed ..
Lewis Lab
The Lewis Lab studies persister cells responsible for tolerance to antibiotics, uncultured bacteria of the environment and the microbiome, and works on drug discovery.
O'Doherty Group
This research group has been working in two related areas of organic synthesis: carbohydrate synthesis and natural product synthesis.  The unifying theme that connects the research in these two areas is the method of synthesis (asymmetric catalysis) and target selection (anti-cancer, anti-viral an..
Laboratory for Neglected Disease Drug Discovery
This research program focuses on those areas of research that will impact on treatment of human disease and on areas that will expedite the drug discovery process.
Beuning Lab
The Beuning laboratory at Northeastern is focused on understanding the structure-function-dynamics relationships of proteins and enzymes, with a particular focus on proteins involved in DNA metabolism and DNA damage tolerance.
Biomaterials Design Group
The Biomaterials Design Group at Northeastern University works at the interface of bio-analytical chemistry, materials science, and design. We investigate fundamental mechanisms behind systems in biology and use our understanding to better inform the design new classes of protein-based biomaterials..
Engen Lab
The Engen Lab uses hydrogen exchange and mass spectrometry (HX MS) as our core technology to probe protein conformation, conformational changes, dynamics, protein folding and the effects of binding.
Thakur Lab
The Thakur Lab's research has a multi-dimensional aspect with a focus on treating a plethora of diseases and disorders. They target receptors like cannabinoid, nicotinic, and other protein complexes with the intent of designing pharmacotherapy for Alzheimer's disease, schizophrenia, anorexia ne..
Wanunu Lab
Professor Wanunu’s research involves studying biosystems at the nanoscale (macromolecular and sub-molecular levels).
Williams Lab
The Williams lab specializes in the development of single molecule methods for quantitatively probing the biophysical properties of DNA and RNA and for understanding the biophysics of their interactions with proteins and other DNA binding ligands.
Zhang Group
The Zhang group develops macromolecular systems to provide answers to important questions in biology and medicine.
SunnyLand applies protein chemistry, analysis and engineering to biology and medicine.
Apfeld Lab
The Apfeld Lab seeks to dissect the interplay between redox processes and age-dependent changes in tissue function in the nematode C. elegans, in order to shed light on the association between the dysregulation of the cellular redox environment and many human diseases of aging.
NeuroLab focuse on a new invertebrate model for central nervous system regeneration and the development of advanced devices for microscopy and imaging.
Crane Lab
The Crane Lab investigates why cells deteriorate with aging and other diseases with a focus on cell metabolism. 
Advanced Biomaterials for Neuroengineering Laboratory
The focus of the Advanced Biomaterials for Neuroengineering Laboratory (ABNEL) is developing novel and transformative devices, biomaterials, and biophysical-based therapies for neuropathies in the Central, Peripheral, and Enteric nervous systems.
Woods Laboratory
The Woods Laboratory is interested in studying the role of mitochondria in normal and disease states, with a major emphasis on female reproductive function and health. 
Laboratory of Neurobiology
Research in Prof. Zupanc’s laboratory focuses on the exploration of neural mechanisms underlying structural plasticity in the adult central nervous system of vertebrates. 
Larese-Casanova Research Group
Our current projects are studying the biogeochemical cycling of selenium, the fate of metallic particles in aquatic environments, and ways to improve drinking water treatment using synthesized carbonaceous materials.
Champion Lab
The Champion lab studies the structure and dynamics of biomolecules using a variety of ultrafast laser-based techniques.
Research Alliance in Science and Engineering (RAISE)
Through integrative education and collaboration between undergraduate chemistry students and faculty mentors, RAISE continues the teaching curriculum beyond the classroom and into the real world.
Budil Lab
Prof. Budil’s group is interested in the physical behavior of macromolecules, including both synthetic polymers and biopolymers such as large proteins. Their principal investigative tool is electron spin resonance (ESR) spectroscopy, including very high-frequency ESR.
Ban-An Khaw Lab
The aim of Ban-An Khaw's research is to develop new approaches for diagnosis of various cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and to use them to further the understanding of the pathogenesis of these disorders to formulate novel therapies.
Makowski Lab
Image and signal processing as applied to biophysical data designed to answer fundamental questions about the molecular basis of living systems
Bellini Lab
Chiara Bellini studies diseases of the cardiovascular system and the effects of cellmediated growth and remodeling processes on tissue and organ mechanics.
Dai Lab
Guohao Dai's research focuses on 3-D bioprinting technology, stem cells technology, and vascular bioengineering.
Murthy Lab
Shashi Murthy's research focuses on microfluidic isolation of stem and progenitor cells, point-of-care diagnostics, cell surface phenomena during microfluidic flow, nanoscale probes for cell stimulation, and biopassive/bioactive coatings for neurological implants.
Parameswaran Lab
Harikrishnan Parameswaran's research focuses on cell-extracellular matrix interactions, force transmission in multicellular ensembles, asthma, pulmonary physiology.
Ruberti Lab
Jeffrey Ruberti's research focuses on tissue engineering of load-bearing matrix (bone, cornea), bioreactor design, multi-scale mechanobiochemistry, statistical mechanics, energetics microscopy, high-resolution imaging, and biopolymer self-assembly.
Stubbins Lab
Aron Stubbin's research fouses on environmental chemistry, geochemistry, the carbon cycle, freshwater, coastal and ocean biogeochemistry, feedbacks between natural biogeochemical cycles and climate change, permafrost, black carbon, and aquatic microplastics
Yunrong Chai's Lab
Yunrong Chai's lab is interested in understanding fundamental mechanisms controlling bacterial biofilm formation and the role of beneficial biofilms in bacteria-host interactions. They are also interested in inhibitory mechanisms targeting key processes during bacterial biofilm development.
Geisinger Lab
The Geisinger lab investigates the molecular basis of antibiotic resistance and disease development in infections with hospital-acquired pathogens.
Hanson Research Group
Professor Hanson’s research group focuses on the application of synthetic organic chemistry to the development of new diagnostic and therapeutic agents for neoplastic diseases.
Oyinda Oyelaran's Lab
Oyinda Oyelaran is the co-PI of the Chemistry and Chemical Biology department's NSF-REU site program.
Torchilin lab
Vladimir Torchilin's lab is conducting research on long-circulating and targeted pharmaceutical carriers for drugs and diagnostics in a variety of in vitro and in vivo models.
Day Lab
The Day Lab investigates the molecular role of G quadruplex DNA in genome stability and human diseas
Logothetis Lab
Diomedes Logothetis's research brings together Medicinal Chemistry, Drug Delivery, Pharmacology/Physiology, and Structural Biology with the aim to form a solid foundation of pre-clinical studies on the action of pharmaceuticals and naturally occurring substances.
Mattos Lab
Research in the Mattos Lab focuses on understanding the rules that govern the recognition, assembly and function of macromolecular complexes.
Miller Lab
Greg Miller's lab focuses on the neurobiology, immunology and genetics associated with acute and chronic exposure to drugs of abuse. Their goals are to understand how drugs of abuse work in the brain and the body, to create new pharmacological treatment strategies for people who are addicted and mo..
Khrapko's Lab
Khrapko's lab is studying mutations in mtDNA and their effects on cellular physiology, aging and disease. THey also use mtDNA mutations to trace mtDNA lineages and to study human evolution.
Tilly's Lab
Tilly's lab seeks to promote a deeper understanding of the genetic and epigenetic drivers of cell lineage specification, differentiation and death, and to then utilize the information gained from these studies for development of innovative new technologies to improve human health within and across ..
Booth Lab
The Booth lab undertakes drug developing starting with a GPCR structure-based ligand design approach using molecular modeling experiments, followed by synthesis of target ligands and in vitro molecular pharmacology assays to delineate their a nity and function.
Chemical Imaging of Living Systems Institute
The Institute developes imaging tools to highlight chemcial processes - enabling clinicians to better diagnose and treat disease.
Center for Complex Network Research (CCNR)
The Center’s objective is simple: think networks. Research focuses on how networks emerge/evolve, how they look, and how they impact our understanding of complex systems. CCNR’s research has developed to unexpected areas, including the topology of the World Wide Web; complex networks inside th..
New England Inflammation and Tissue Protection Institute
This institute focuses on the role of tissue inflammation in fighting disease and infection, and the mechanisms that control tissue inflammation in the body. The Institute’s work has immediate implications for anti-cancer strategies and approaches to improved vaccines.
The Minds Behind COS Biochemistry
Faculty Spotlight
Leila Deravi
The Biomaterials Design Group at Northeastern University works at the interface of bio-analytical chemistry, materials science, and design. They investigate fundamental mechanisms behind systems in biology and use our understanding to better inform the design new classes of protein-based biomaterials that may interface with or enhance the performance of humans.
John Engen
Current research projects in the Engen laboratory include (1) investigations of kinase conformation to understand regulation and aberrant signaling in various disease states including cancer, (2) analysis of the conformation of viral accessory proteins from HIV, (3) studies of protein conformation at biological membranes, and (4) optimization and methods development in hydrogen exchange mass spectrometry.
Penny Beuning
One type of research in the Beuning lab aims to determine how cells respond to DNA damage and maintain the accuracy of genetic information interactions between DNA replication and DNA damage tolerance. As part of this work, the lab aims to develop DNA damage tolerance enzymes and DNA repair proteins as tools for biotechnology applications.
James Monaghan
Professor Monaghan’s lab uses the axolotl salamander to investigate the cellular and molecular basis of complex tissue regeneration. Axolotls have the amazing ability to regenerate large portions of their limbs, tail, heart, and spinal cord. His lab studies the development and regeneration of the nervous system and limb and the interactions that take place between these organ systems.
Kim Lewis
The Lewis Lab studies persister cells and uncultured bacteria. Persisters are dormant variants of regular cells which are tolerant to antibiotics and responsible for recalcitrance of biofilm infections. Using transcriptome analysis, cell sorting and whole genome sequencing the lab faculty are identifying genes responsible for persister formation.
Kirsten Fertuck
At Northeastern Fertuck teaches Biochemistry, as well as freshman-level Inquiries in Cell and Molecular Biology. She's also also taught advanced-level Molecular Cell Biology. She focuses on the effects of pollutants on signaling through the estrogen receptor.

Biochemistry Students Selected for Outstanding Chapter of the Year Award

ASBMB Chapter President Evan Mun and Vice President Julian Amirault made their final year before graduation count, filling it with a variety of professional development and social activities for the benefit of students with a true passion or even just a budding curiosity for biochemistry and molecular biology. The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) recently recognized them for their efforts, awarding the Chapter the ‘Outstanding Chapter of the Year’ honor. There are about 120 Chapters nationally, and the Chapter had last received the designation in 2016.

In order to successfully pull off their many achievements, the two needed to work hand in hand with the rest of their executive board, consisting of Ariella Bourdeau, Anders Lindberg, Kathleen Merritt, and Jared Subiono. One of their most complex events of the academic year involved hosting the ASBMB Northeast Regional Meeting, which was attended on NU campus in November 2019 by approximately 100 undergraduate attendees from 14 different schools, and included a poster competition with judges from 14 different institutions. Members of the Roxbury Community College Chapter, which is their Minority-Serving Institution ASBMB partner Chapter, were also very important in organizing and executing the event successfully. The NU students were able to take advantage of their experience from the past, having successfully hosted the event the four previous years.

The ‘Outstanding Chapter’ award also recognized the Chapter’s commitment to organizing a diverse set of group activities, as well as the individual excellence within the Chapter’s 140+ members. Their faculty advisor, Prof. Kirsten Fertuck, is confident that this fall their new president, Ariella Bourdeau will continue the strong tradition of the Chapter, with many new ideas for the coming year.

June 17, 2020

The Coronavirus Might Have Weak Spots. Machine Learning Could Help Find Them.

Mary Jo Ondrechen, a professor of  chemistry and chemical biology, wants to identify all of the amino acids responsible for the abilities of the coronavirus to infect and thrive at the expense of human cells. Together with Penny Beuning, a professor of chemistry and chemical biology,  Ondrechen recently received a grant from the National Science Foundation to use machine learning algorithms and experimental lab work to do just that.

Research led by Ondrechen and Beuning could help researchers gain a better understanding of the biochemistry of SARS-CoV-2, and serve as the basis for developing new drugs to inhibit its infectious abilities.

This story was originally published on [email protected] on May 15, 2020. To continue reading, click here.

May 18, 2020
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On the Front Lines of COVID-19 with COS Alumna Dr. Ali Wallace

Dr. Ali Wallace ’13 works as a Pediatric Resident Physician at Massachusetts General Hospital. She took time out of her increasingly busy schedule to give us an inside look at COVID-19 preparations, as well as to discuss how her experience at Northeastern shaped her into the doctor she is today.

Can you tell me about your experience at Northeastern?

I started my journey at Northeastern as a Chemistry major. I quickly realized the lab environment wasn’t for me (thanks co-op!) so transitioned into Biochemistry, with a minor in Psychology.

I lived on campus for a majority of college, which I absolutely loved (don’t ever take for granted those floor-to-ceiling-window-Boston-views in West Village).

I also did a Dialogue Program abroad in Italy. I spent my free time dancing in a few club groups (first season of No Limits Dance Crew!) and going on hikes with NUHOC, which I will forever be grateful for because that is how I met my now husband!

I graduated in 2013 and miss college all the time!


What kind of co-ops did you go on?

My first co-op was doing Immunology research at Biogen – a pharmaceutical company in Cambridge. I worked with cell lines and mice, and learned a ton, but mostly that I wasn’t cut out for an entire career in a lab.

I knew I wanted to work with people and I found a more clinical co-op as a Newborn Hearing Screener at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, which I still believe to be the best job ever! I cuddled newborns all day and got to congratulate new parents when their baby passed its “first test”! This was my first clinical experience in Pediatrics and it obviously left an impression on me. I really enjoyed the Pediatricians I worked with, the hospital environment, and being a part of special moments on a daily basis.


How did Northeastern and COS help shape your interests and/or prepare you for what you’re doing today?

I am forever grateful for the flexibility that Northeastern gave me while trying to find my ideal career path.

I came to college passionate about Genetics, inspired by my older sister who is developmentally disabled. I just didn’t quite know what that looked like in terms of a future career. You’ll never know if you like something until you try it!

I always loved science, but never really considered clinical medicine until after I realized I didn’t want to work in a lab. I always wonder where I would have ended up if I didn’t have that first co-op experience early in my college career. But every experience along the way has helped me to learn more about myself and the things that kept me going each day.


Where did you land after you left the University?

I was lucky enough to be accepted to Tufts University School of Medicine – right down the road from NU! I was one of 5 fellow Huskies in my class, which was awesome! Medical school was an awesome experience, and my time at Northeastern definitely prepared me for the trials and tribulations of life as a med student.


You’re currently at MGH as a Pediatric Resident Physician. What’s a normal day look like for you?

Yes! I am currently in my third and last year, and will be graduating in June! Every day is truly different and unpredictable.

We rotate through various parts of the hospital (Emergency Room, PICU, newborn nursery, NICU etc) and with various sub-specialties (Oncology, Cardiology, Pulmonary, etc) so each block is very different and your role is ever-changing.

This makes life as a resident exciting, but also stressful. We work days, nights, weekends, and 24 hours shifts. On a typical day on an inpatient unit (just to give you a rough idea), we get sign out from the overnight team at around 6:30 am.

We have lectures around 8 am, and spend the morning rounding, or going room to room to see each patient. The team usually consists of a senior resident, and intern, and a couple of medical students. We examine our patients, make a treatment plan, talk with families, and order any tests or labs that are needed.

The afternoons are for learning, following up on results, and admitting new kids to the hospital! There are rarely dull moments. I see sick children in the Emergency one day, and well children in clinic the next! I love attending deliveries of newborns – my favorite thing ever is showing a brand new dad how to cut the umbilical cord. The various reactions and responses are priceless!


Do you find the work rewarding?

I may be bias, but it is hard for me to imagine anything more fun or rewarding than taking care of children.

They are incredibly resilient, wise, and loving. We dress up for holidays at work, partake in crafts, birthday parties, and last day of chemo celebrations.

The work is hard, but there aren’t many days when I’m not smiling. My co-residents are also amazing, and I like to think that Pediatricians in particular are just nice and genuine people- one of the biggest things that drew me to the field in the first place!


With the COVID-19 outbreak, can you talk about your current role is and how work at MGH has evolved over the past couple weeks?

What an unprecedented time.

Today is March 16th, and I know things will be much different 1 week from now. MGH is full of incredibly smart and hard working people who having been working endless hours to keep our community safe, and I am honored to be part of such an institution.

Life as a resident has changed dramatically – all elective rotations or roles that are not necessary have been cancelled. We have actually been cutting back on the number of residents in the hospital to limit potential exposures amongst staff. Many of us are at home on back-up call, practicing social distancing and staying healthy until we will have to replace others that become sick.

We have continued having educational conferences virtually, while supporting those on the front lines until we get called in to work.

Based on some recent research, children are less severely affected by the virus, so our department is prepared to help out on the adult side when necessary. There has been a lot of careful preparation for whatever the next few days/weeks throw at us.


Is there anything you’re not hearing discussed enough when it comes to the outbreak that could help people be proactive and stay safe?

I encourage people to visit the CDC website for the most up to date information, as recommendations have been changing by the hour.

But I will say, this is not a time to be cavalier about the coronavirus. While you may not feel at risk as a young, healthy, college student, the downstream effects of transmission are extremely frightening.

We need to prevent the collapse of our medical system and every decision you make counts. Wash your hands, stay home if you are sick, and don’t hang out with large groups of people.

Help each other out! Grab groceries for an elderly neighbor; offer to pick up things for friends if making a trip to the store.

And finally, stay connected with friends and families virtually! These are trying times, and we can all use each other’s support. Keep an eye out for virtual concerts (ie Dropkick Murphy’s St. Patrick Day show, or the MET Opera, who will be streaming shows for free!) and free yoga and exercise classes that can be done from home.

March 19, 2020

Could Houses of the Future Be Made by Bacteria?

Imagine if we could grow a building the way coral polyps grow a reef, or if living cells in our clothes could break down sweat and body odor. Imagine colonies of bacteria on space stations produced the filament for 3D printers. Imagine materials we use every day could repair themselves.

It sounds like science fiction, but Neel Joshi, an associate professor of chemistry and chemical  biology at Northeastern, believes such feats are achievable. And the National Science Foundation agrees.

Engineered living materials—substances made of or by reprogrammed cells—could improve on and replace plastics, concrete, and other materials that are currently made with more standard manufacturing practices, Joshi says.

“The carbon footprint of materials manufactured for our entire built environment is huge,” Joshi says. “Being able to decrease that by following the model of how biology builds things is going to be very important.”

Neel Joshi, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology, is training cells to build materials that could replace plastics or be used in medical treatments. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Neel Joshi, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology, is training cells to build materials that could replace plastics or be used in medical treatments. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

This idea, submitted by Joshi and his team, has been selected as a grand prize winner in the National Science Foundation’s 2026 Idea Machine competition, which sought “grand challenges” to help shape the U.S. research agenda for years to come. The team’s proposal was one of four grand prize winners selected from close to 800 submissions.

The idea of using bacteria to build things isn’t as wild as it may seem, Joshi says. The biomanufacturing industry already uses microbes to make fragrances, vitamins, pharmaceuticals, and other useful molecules. And there are a few larger materials being created by living cells as well.

“Some of our compostable plastics that you might find in the cafeteria are made from polymers that are harvested from microbes,” Joshi says. “That’s a step in the right direction. But there are very few examples of those types of materials, and they also don’t really cover the wide range of material properties that we would want. The real vision of engineered living materials is to go beyond that and program cells to make functional materials and goods directly, circumventing traditional manufacturing practices.”

Getting living cells to build a coherent material, as opposed to a molecule, is more challenging, but this happens regularly in nature. Some colonies of microorganisms create slick, glue-like layers called biofilms to protect themselves—think of the plaque on your teeth or the slime on a river rock—and these mechanisms could be adapted to create things like waterproof coatings or plastic-like materials.

Postdoctoral researchers Avinash Manjula Basavanna and Anna Duraj-Thatte pipette in the lab. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

Currently, we make about 300 million tons of plastic every year, and the vast majority of it is not recycled. Plastics don’t really break down in the environment, and researchers are looking for ways to tackle the growing problem of plastic waste. Materials made by cells are much more likely to be biodegradable, Joshi says.

“Biology is very good at converting stuff that was useful in one form into another form and reusing all the same raw materials to make something else,” Joshi says. “Anything that you make from a living system is likely going to be more degradable than plastic.”

Joshi and his colleagues are already working on several new materials in their lab, including plastic-like substances created by bacteria.

“Learning from nature has been one part of doing this research,” says Avinash Manjula Basavanna, a postdoctoral researcher who has been focusing on creating bioplastics. “But this is one step ahead of typical biomimicry. We are engineering biology to customize materials to whatever we want.”

Neel Joshi, associate professor of chemistry and chemical biology, left, explains a concept to his fellow researchers. Photo by Ruby Wallau/Northeastern University

The group is also tweaking a biofilm created by E. coli bacteria to have different properties. The bacteria could be used to create a protective layer in the gut of someone with Crohn’s disease or colitis, guiding healing of lesions and inflamed areas.

“In the next 10 years, we will talk about using microbes for producing materials for different applications beyond what we can even imagine right now,” says Anna Duraj-Thatte, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab. “This is just the beginning.”

This story was originally published on [email protected] on February 5, 2020

February 10, 2020

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