Professor Albert Keung has received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award for his research proposal, “A Synthetic Biology Platform to Map and Engineer the Diverse Epigenetic Space.” The NSF describes CAREER awards as among its ” … most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.”
Prof. Keung’s CAREER project will build upon his recent research that focuses on chromatin, the complex layer of hundreds of proteins bound on top of the genomes of higher-order organisms.
The primary function of chromatin is to package long DNA molecules into more compact, denser structures. This prevents the strands from becoming tangled and plays important roles in reinforcing the DNA during cell division, thereby preventing DNA damage, and regulating gene expression and DNA replication. Chromatin confers regulatory handles over diverse cellular and organismal processes including aging and cancer.
Prof. Keung’s research team has developed techniques to unlock access to the diversity of chromatin. The next step is to develop new technological platforms and educational innovations that will unlock an understanding of, and ability to control, the expression of genes in organisms from yeast and plants to humans, with broad applications in biotechnology.
An important outcome of the work will be hands-on experiments for middle and high school students that connect molecular changes in chromatin to effects observable by eye, and new educational approaches at the collegiate and PhD levels. Specifically, the project will develop coursework modules to train the next generation of scientists in how to handle and analyze large datasets that are becoming increasingly common in bioengineering and the biological sciences.
Prof. Keung’s research interests include synthetic biology, neural and stem cell engineering, and bioengineering. He was the recipient of a prestigious 2017 Avenir Award from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) within the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the 2020 ACS Synthetic Biology Young Innovator Award, and the CURE-AS Innovation in Investigation Award from the Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics.
He earned his B.S. and Ph.D. degrees, both in chemical engineering, at Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley, respectively, and he was a postdoctoral fellow in bioengineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in biomedical engineering at Boston University.
This post was originally published in Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering.