Bacteria contribute significantly to our well-being. They constitute our microbiome that is involved in digesting food and delivering information to the brain regarding the food content. They are essential for degrading materials in the soil and waters of our planet to maintain a stable and healthy environment for us. A major problem in understanding how bacteria function in their native state is to be able to see how their gene expression changes under a variety of environmental conditions or with changes in the food intake. We are developing a method that uses aptamers to detect the expression of genes in bacterial colonies while they are still alive and functioning. Aptamers are small nucleic acids that act like antibodies but, unlike antibodies, they can function inside the cell and thus be used to monitor intracellular functions such as gene expression.
Program mentor: Marit Nilsen-Hamilton, professor, Biochemistry/Biophysics & Molecular Biology, Iowa State University