Investigators at WID are using the institute’s interdisciplinary approach to solve the world’s biggest problems. These are the top ten recent discoveries made by WID researchers. Read more stories >
WID and UW Limnology researchers teamed up with natural resource agencies to use mathematical optimization models. The goal: to change the way resources are allocated and assist in the recovery of native fish in the Great Lakes basin. The result: a tool that can tell resource managers what to do with a given budget to maximize increases in fish habitat (and more).
Gong’s collaborators are developing a drug that maintains open blood vessels. Gong, an expert in nanomedicine, devised a delivery method by engineering biomimetic nanoclusters to carry a drug to the appropriate location. The biomembrane coating acts as a guide to take the particle to the targeted location. Once the novel approach is fully developed, it could benefit millions of patients with various cardiovascular diseases.
Error rates as high as 50 percent using CRISPR-Cas9 are a particular problem when the goal is to correct typos in the DNA that cause genetic disease. Saha used a molecular glue, RNA aptamer, to assemble and deliver a complete CRISPR repair kit to the site of the DNA cut, making sure everything is in the right place: he’s achieved an accuracy rate of 98%.
7. Karen Schloss and Laurent Lessard apply data science tools to a psychology problem: communicating with color
Schloss wanted to expand and automate the process of creating easily interpretable color-coding systems, but color associations are never 1:1. Using recycling as an example system, she and Lessard applied Lessard’s operations research—also applied to scheduling and logistics problems like package delivery and flight scheduling—to the task. The team credits WID’s collaborative culture.
PCK1 participates in metabolic pathways that are essential for cell survival and was known to be involved in glucose maintenance. The new finding was PCK1’s role in diabetes and metastasis. The enzyme is present in some tissues such as the liver or kidney, and with its activity can supply glucose to other tissues that feed mainly on it, such as the brain. The gene is implicated in pathologies related to alterations in glucose levels in the body, such as diabetes, but also with different types of cancer, by providing tumor cells with molecules that they need for proliferation.
Flowering is a key life cycle process for plants moderated by groups of regulating proteins. But Zhong found a single protein that can bind to two different chemical modifications on chromatin, promoting OR preventing the transition to flowering. “This linking of a developmental on-and-off switch in one protein provides opportunities for improving crops and could also help scientists study diseases like cancer.”
The pair created hydrogel molds that allow them to precisely control the three-dimensional structures of organoids, making sure that they grow into tissues complex enough to mimic human organs. Ashton is particularly interested in using the technique to create spinal cord organoids to better understand development of the spinal cord, diseases that affect it (ALS, spinal muscular atrophy), and neurotoxic effects of pharmaceuticals and environmental toxins.
Jo Handelsman and her team developed a community consisting of three species of bacteria—all with sequenced genomes—isolated from soybean roots and grown together. The complex community of microbes developed new behaviors together that couldn’t be predicted from the individual members alone — they grew tougher structures known as biofilms, changed how they moved across their environment, and controlled the release of a novel antibiotic. By understanding communities like THOR, scientists can begin to manipulate them to produce benefits.
By using Roy’s computational techniques to understand gene regulation during the cellular reprogramming process, Sridharan’s lab has developed a new cocktail of small molecules that has jump-started the cell cycle in induced pluripotent stem cells, a critical advance that has increased the success rate to around 40% and shortened the time scale of induced pluripotency. Using iPS cells eliminates the need for embryonic cells for many regenerative medicine purposes.
Currently, artificial blood vessels with diameters smaller than 6 millimeters—the kind needed for bypass surgeries—are not commercially available. Turng’s invention promises to eliminate the need to harvest blood vessels from patients. “Kind of like when you order something off Amazon and it ships right away; we want to do the same thing—but instead, the off-the-shelf product is artificial blood vessels that doctors can implant into a patient.”