Our lab focuses on aptamer research. Aptamers are small strands of DNA that identify and bind to specific target molecules. They can be used in a variety of applications, including clinical purposes. Everyone in our lab (grad students and undergraduate students) wanted to participate in this competition. However, we decided that my PhD project (Selection of a DNA aptamer for homocysteine using Systematic Evolution of Ligands by Exponential Enrichment) would be best suited for the dance.
Aptamers are selected using a procedure called Systematic Evolution of Ligands by EXponential enrichment (SELEX) that mimics the natural phenomena of evolution and survival of the fittest. We chose to use a medley of different songs for our dance because SELEX consists of many stages and each stage is a little bit different.
The process begins with a large population of random DNA strands. The DNA strands that bind the strongest to the target will survive and are copied using PCR. These new copies of DNA strands are then used in the next selection round. After multiple rounds, the population of DNA becomes more strongly attracted to the desired target, leading to the ultimate discovery of an aptamer.
My project involves finding an aptamer for homocysteine as it is implicated in many serious health problems such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and birth defects. Finding an appropriate homocysteine aptamer would allow the creation of simple and rapid clinical diagnostics.
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