All Publications

  • Broadening Participation: 21st Century Opportunities for Amateurs in Biology Research. Integrative and comparative biology de Lange, O., Youngflesh, C., Ibarra, A., Perez, R., Kaplan, M. 2021


    The modern field of biology has its roots in the curiosity and skill of amateur researchers and has never been purely the domain of professionals. Today, professionals and amateurs contribute to biology research, working both together and independently. Well-targeted and holistic investment in amateur biology research could bring a range of benefits that, in addition to positive societal benefits, may help to address the considerable challenges facing our planet in the 21st century. We highlight how recent advances in amateur biology have been facilitated by innovations in digital infrastructure as well as the development of community biology laboratories, launched over the last decade, and we provide recommendations for how individuals can support the integration of amateurs into biology research. The benefits of investment in amateur biology research could be many-fold, however without a clear consideration of equity, efforts to promote amateur biology could exacerbate structural inequalities around access to and benefits from STEM. The future of the field of biology relies on integrating a diversity of perspectives and approaches-amateur biology researchers have an important role to play.

    View details for DOI 10.1093/icb/icab180

    View details for PubMedID 34427632

  • Massively parallel RNA device engineering in mammalian cells with RNA-Seq. Nature communications Xiang, J. S., Kaplan, M. n., Dykstra, P. n., Hinks, M. n., McKeague, M. n., Smolke, C. D. 2019; 10 (1): 4327


    Synthetic RNA-based genetic devices dynamically control a wide range of gene-regulatory processes across diverse cell types. However, the limited throughput of quantitative assays in mammalian cells has hindered fast iteration and interrogation of sequence space needed to identify new RNA devices. Here we report developing a quantitative, rapid and high-throughput mammalian cell-based RNA-Seq assay to efficiently engineer RNA devices. We identify new ribozyme-based RNA devices that respond to theophylline, hypoxanthine, cyclic-di-GMP, and folinic acid from libraries of ~22,700 sequences in total. The small molecule responsive devices exhibit low basal expression and high activation ratios, significantly expanding our toolset of highly functional ribozyme switches. The large datasets obtained further provide conserved sequence and structure motifs that may be used for rationally guided design. The RNA-Seq approach offers a generally applicable strategy for developing broad classes of RNA devices, thereby advancing the engineering of genetic devices for mammalian systems.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41467-019-12334-y

    View details for PubMedID 31548547

  • Conformational control of DNA target cleavage by CRISPR-Cas9. Nature Sternberg, S. H., LaFrance, B., Kaplan, M., Doudna, J. A. 2015; 527 (7576): 110-113


    Cas9 is an RNA-guided DNA endonuclease that targets foreign DNA for destruction as part of a bacterial adaptive immune system mediated by clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR). Together with single-guide RNAs, Cas9 also functions as a powerful genome engineering tool in plants and animals, and efforts are underway to increase the efficiency and specificity of DNA targeting for potential therapeutic applications. Studies of off-target effects have shown that DNA binding is far more promiscuous than DNA cleavage, yet the molecular cues that govern strand scission have not been elucidated. Here we show that the conformational state of the HNH nuclease domain directly controls DNA cleavage activity. Using intramolecular Förster resonance energy transfer experiments to detect relative orientations of the Cas9 catalytic domains when associated with on- and off-target DNA, we find that DNA cleavage efficiencies scale with the extent to which the HNH domain samples an activated conformation. We furthermore uncover a surprising mode of allosteric communication that ensures concerted firing of both Cas9 nuclease domains. Our results highlight a proofreading mechanism beyond initial protospacer adjacent motif (PAM) recognition and RNA-DNA base-pairing that serves as a final specificity checkpoint before DNA double-strand break formation.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/nature15544

    View details for PubMedID 26524520

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4859810

  • Programmable RNA recognition and cleavage by CRISPR/Cas9 NATURE O'Connell, M. R., Oakes, B. L., Sternberg, S. H., East-Seletsky, A., Kaplan, M., Doudna, J. A. 2014; 516 (7530): 263-?


    The CRISPR-associated protein Cas9 is an RNA-guided DNA endonuclease that uses RNA-DNA complementarity to identify target sites for sequence-specific double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) cleavage. In its native context, Cas9 acts on DNA substrates exclusively because both binding and catalysis require recognition of a short DNA sequence, known as the protospacer adjacent motif (PAM), next to and on the strand opposite the twenty-nucleotide target site in dsDNA. Cas9 has proven to be a versatile tool for genome engineering and gene regulation in a large range of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell types, and in whole organisms, but it has been thought to be incapable of targeting RNA. Here we show that Cas9 binds with high affinity to single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) targets matching the Cas9-associated guide RNA sequence when the PAM is presented in trans as a separate DNA oligonucleotide. Furthermore, PAM-presenting oligonucleotides (PAMmers) stimulate site-specific endonucleolytic cleavage of ssRNA targets, similar to PAM-mediated stimulation of Cas9-catalysed DNA cleavage. Using specially designed PAMmers, Cas9 can be specifically directed to bind or cut RNA targets while avoiding corresponding DNA sequences, and we demonstrate that this strategy enables the isolation of a specific endogenous messenger RNA from cells. These results reveal a fundamental connection between PAM binding and substrate selection by Cas9, and highlight the utility of Cas9 for programmable transcript recognition without the need for tags.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/nature13769

    View details for Web of Science ID 000346383500049

    View details for PubMedID 25274302

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC4268322

  • Structures of Cas9 Endonucleases Reveal RNA-Mediated Conformational Activation SCIENCE Jinek, M., Jiang, F., Taylor, D. W., Sternberg, S. H., Kaya, E., Ma, E., Anders, C., Hauer, M., Zhou, K., Lin, S., Kaplan, M., Iavarone, A. T., Charpentier, E., Nogales, E., Doudna, J. A. 2014; 343 (6176): 1215-?