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PLOS Science Wednesday with Todd T. Eckdahl

 by Aakriti Jain

On Wed, July 22, 2015, PLOS is hosting Dr. Todd Eckdahl on its weekly PLOS Science Wednesday “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) live chat series on Reddit science.

UPDATE 7/22 — here’s the link to Dr. Eckdahl’s just completed AMA. And a sample Q&A:

Q: If I’m understanding this paper correctly, are you suggesting that we could sort of “customize” bacteria to possibly treat illnesses that are related to deficiencies in bacterial functioning in the gut? Are there other places in the body that this is relevant, too? What would this look like in terms of accessibility?

Thanks for putting this in simple terms for the simple-minded, like me. 🙂

PLOSScienceWednesday I would not call your question simple minded. Knowing about the micro biome (importance of gut bacteria) for our health is pretty sophisticated.

To answer your question, we never intended the bacteria to go into humans. The goal would be for companies to grow the bacteria in large vats and then purify the medicine for traditional delivery.

Q: Oh, the whole time I imagined the conversion would occur inside someones gut . .

PLOSScienceWednesday That could happen down the road, but not until we understand human gut ←> microbe interactions.

For more about the paper and the authors, continue with Aakriti Jain’s preview post…

Dr. Eckdahl is a Professor and Chairperson at the Department of Biology at Missouri Western State University. His lab is interested in using engineering principles and molecular biology tools to design and construct genetic circuits in living cells; in particular, in constructing bacterial computers that can solve mathematical or biological problems.

The focus of this particular AMA will be his group’s recent publication inPLOS One, titled “Programmed Evolution for Optimization of Orthogonal Metabolic Output in Bacteria.”

The article describes an out-of-the-box approach to applying engineering principles to biology. While typical metabolic engineering suffers from low output levels due to natural selection in the model organism, Eckdahl and his group crafted a methodology that embraces the inherent materials evolution in biological engineering. Their approach, dubbed Programmed Evolution, serves as a proof of concept of a strategy that can be used to optimize metabolic pathways by “inverting the standard paradigm in metabolic engineering by harnessing evolution instead of fighting it.” Read more here.

Fig. 2 from paper. Programmed Evolution. The Combinatorics Module facilitates variation of elements controlling orthogonal metabolism. Genetic variation is illustrated by different colors of bacteria. The Fitness Module defines fitness as orthogonal metabolic output and cell growth, and imposes negative selection on bacteria with low metabolic output, shown by elimination of some of the colored bacteria. A Biosensor Module is used to measure the metabolic output of the population or individual cells. Programmed Evolution can be repeated for successive cycles.

Dr. Eckdahl is very enthusiastic about involving undergraduates in scientific research, and his lab focuses greatly on incorporating young students in outstanding research projects.

About PLOS Science Wednesday

If you are not already familiar with Science Wednesday, PLOS, in conjunction with Reddit and their AMA feature, launched a weekly series where you, the reader, can ask our authors anything on /r/science. We created this to showcase new research in the various fields that PLOS publishes in while allowing our authors to directly interact with and answer any questions from fellow researchers and readers. For more information on PLOS Science Wednesdays and archives of previous AMAs, click here.

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