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Yale Awarded $1.8M NSF Grant to Establish Center for Genomically Encoded Materials

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – A team of Yale University researchers has received a three-year, $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation to establish the Center for Genomically Encoded Materials (C-GEM), where they are planning to develop a method to generate synthetic polymers using reengineered cells.

According to the grant's abstract, C-GEM's approach involves synthesizing sequence-defined chemical polymers by repurposing Escherichia coli translational machinery. Instead of promoting bond formation between alpha-amino acids, the machinery is modified to promote bond-forming reactions between monomers.

"The approach demands orthogonal enzymes that acylate orthogonal tRNAs with each monomer, efficiently and in vivo; orthogonal ribosomes that accept these tRNAs as substrates and elongate the products; genomically recoded organisms with multiple open codons to enable mRNA-templated synthesis of sequence-defined polymers; and high-resolution structural data to deepen understanding and inform design," the abstract states.

C-GEM is being established as an NSF Center for Chemical Innovation (CCI), and is being overseen by Yale's Alanna Schepartz, Farren Isaacs, Dieter Söll, and Jeffrey Townsend, as well as University of California, Berkeley collaborator Jamie Cate.

"This center will work on exciting chemistry at the forefront of the field," Angela Wilson, director of the NSF division of chemistry, said in a statement. "We look forward to the developments that will ensue from this CCI."

In addition to the polymer-synthesis technology, C-GEM also aims to launch an online platform and data management system — called GEM-Net — to promote internal and external data sharing, as well as develop an online video game that allows citizen scientists to participate in the research process and track results.