Biomolecules, including DNA, RNA, proteins, peptides and the constellation of small molecules made by cells, are the molecules that fuel life. Biomolecular engineering is the analysis and engineering of these living systems. Our research uses techniques from synthetic biology, organic chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering, and cell biology to quantify and manipulate the three-dimensional structure and function of molecules and macromolecular assemblies for potential medical applications.
Synthetic biology includes the development of biosensors or genetic circuits to assist in the design and optimization of metabolically engineered strains. An important tool in this area — recognized by the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, awarded to Princeton Engineering alumna Frances Arnold — is directed evolution, which involves the generation of large libraries of protein mutants at the genetic level followed by screening or selection of functional variants.
Computational efforts in this area help illuminate the structure and conformations of biomolecules over a range of physiological environments, including unusual environments like subfreezing temperatures or solutions with high concentrations of denaturants.