Unique physical, chemical, and optical phenomena arise when materials are confined to the nano-scale. We are accustomed to making observations and predictions for the behavior of living systems on a macroscopic scale that is intuitive for the time and size scales of our day-to-day lives. However, the building blocks of life: proteins, nucleic acids, and cells, occupy different spatiotemporal scales.
Our lab focuses on understanding and exploiting tunable optical and chemical properties of nanomaterials to access information about biological systems stored at the nano-scale. We present recent work on using nanosensors to measure the chemistry of the brain, in efforts to better understand how antidepressants and antipsychotics affect brain chemistry. We characterize our findings in the context of their utility for high spatial and temporal neuromodulator imaging in the brain with 2-photon microscopy, describe nanosensor exciton behavior from a molecular dynamics (MD) perspective, and validate nanosensors for use in vivo to correlate external stimuli (experiences, behavior) to chemical output (neurotransmission).
We will also discuss how nanomaterials can be synthesized to carry biomolecular cargo to living systems. In particular, genetic engineering of plants is at the core of environmental sustainability efforts, natural product synthesis of pharmaceuticals, and agricultural crop engineering to meet the needs of a growing population changing global climate.
We note the physical barrier presented by the cell wall has limited the ease and throughput with which exogenous biomolecules can be delivered to plants. We will describe how nanomaterials engineering principles can be leveraged to manipulate living plants by delivering synthetic gene vectors to arugula and wheat, in efforts to reconcile the benefits of crop genetic engineering with the demand for non-GMO foods. Our work in the agricultural space provides a promising tool for species-independent, targeted, and passive delivery of genetic material, without transgene integration, into plant cells for rapid and parallelizable testing of plant genotype-phenotype relationships.