My PhD lab focused on aptamer research. Aptamers are small strands of DNA (or RNA) that bind to a desired target. They have been used in many applications, such as medical diagnostics and therapeutics.
Everyone in my lab (grad students and undergraduate students) wanted to participate in Science Magazine's Dance Your PhD competition. 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 discovered using a lab technique 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 that are a little bit different.
The SELEX 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 round. After multiple rounds, the population of DNA becomes more strongly attracted to the desired target, leading to the ultimate discovery of an "aptamer".
In my PhD, I aimed to find an aptamer for homocysteine as it is implicated in many serious health problems such as heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and birth defects. This aptamer may allow the development of simple and rapid clinical diagnostics for these diseases.
This work was published in RSC Advances: pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2013/ra/c3ra43893g#!divAbstract