Center for Genetically Encoded Materials


Transforming the fabric of society with genetically encoded chemical polymers

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Illustration by Nicolle Rager, NSF

About C-GEM


Our mission

Establish a fundamentally new form of chemical matter

The Science

Re-engineering the cell's protein synthesizing machine

Our Team

A multi-institution collaboration

Latest News

Hot off the press

Our mission


C-GEM seeks to establish a fundamentally new way to program chemical matter and transform the way we produce materials and medicines. The science is spectacular—a wholesale re-engineering of the natural translation machine to produce genetically encoded chemical polymers with precisely defined sequences and unprecedented functions. To catalyze these efforts, C-GEM will implement GEM-NET, a sophisticated data management system to promote data sharing within and outside the team, and with industry, the NSF, and the public. By fostering innovation at the chemical-biology-materials frontier, C-GEM will establish a diverse chemical workforce, integrate research with training, and captivate scientists and non-scientists alike.

How it works

The science


C-GEM seeks to solve a “Holy Grail” level problem in modern science: the inability to prepare polymers whose monomers are defined with protein-like control. Sequence-defined polymers possess extraordinary potential for information storage, anti-counterfeiting, drug delivery, remediation, even drug discovery, and much more, but strategies to prepare them are barely in their infancy.

C-GEM will synthesize sequence-defined chemical polymers by repurposing the E. coli translational apparatus to promote bond-forming reactions between monomers that are not α-amino acids, but instead the building blocks for aramids, polyolefins, polyurethanes, even polyketide precursors.

This goal 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.

Phase I efforts will develop the multi-disciplinary tools and technologies to accomplish this goal. In Phase II, an expanded team of chemists, biologists, engineers, computational and materials scientists, and industrial partners will expand these efforts to biosynthesize, characterize, and interrogate multiple classes of truly exotic chemical polymers, containing 3 or more distinct monomers per class—products that can only be generated in recoded organisms whose ribosomes support novel chemistries.

Sequence-defined chemical polymers are the materials of tomorrow.

Meet the team


Investigators

Project Management

Sarah Smaga

Sarah Smaga

Project Coordinator, UC Berkeley Ph.D. Yale University (2019)
Stephen Gaffney

Stephen Gaffney

GEM-NET Developer, Yale University Associate Research Scientist

Postdoctoral Scientists

Andrew Cairns

Andrew Cairns

Postdoc, UC Berkeley Ph.D. University of Glasgow (2013)
Jeffery Tharp

Jeffery Tharp

Postdoc, Yale University Ph.D. Texas A&M (2018)
Josh Walker

Josh Walker

Postdoc, UC Berkeley Ph.D. Cornell University (2019)
Andrew Watkins

Andrew Watkins

Postdoc, Stanford University Ph.D. New York University (2016)

Graduate Students

Raven Buntyn 

Raven Buntyn 

Graduate Student, UC Berkeley B.S. Southern University (2018)
Diondra Dilworth

Diondra Dilworth

Graduate Student, Yale University B.A. Harvard University (2018)
Aaron Featherston

Aaron Featherston

Graduate Student, Yale University B.S. Mercer University (2014)
Riley Fricke

Riley Fricke

Graduate Student, UC Berkeley B.S. UCLA (2017)
Patrick Ginther

Patrick Ginther

Graduate Student, UC Berkeley B.S. Washington College (2017)
Sebasthian Santiago 

Sebasthian Santiago 

Graduate Student, UC Berkeley B.S. MIT (2017)
Tent Tangpradabkul

Tent Tangpradabkul

Graduate Student, UC Berkeley B.S. University of Illinois (2018)
Fred Ward

Fred Ward

Graduate Student, UC Berkeley A.B. Harvard University (2015)
Zoe Watson

Zoe Watson

Graduate Student, UC Berkeley B.S. UNC Chapel Hill (2012)

Alumni

Omer Ad

Omer Ad

Senior Scientist, 4 Catalyzer Formerly Assoc. Research Scientist, Yale University
Kyle Hoffman

Kyle Hoffman

Postdoc, Western University Formerly Postdoc, Yale University
Allison Walker

Allison Walker

Postdoc, Harvard Medical School Formerly Ph.D. Yale University (2018)

Executive Advisory Board

Kate Adamala

Kate Adamala

Assistant Professor, Department of Genetics, Cell Biology, and Development University of Minnesota
Anne Baranger

Anne Baranger

Director of Undergraduate Chemistry, Faculty Assistant for Teaching and Learning, Adjunct Professor of Chemistry UC Berkeley
Ehuz Gazit

Ehuz Gazit

Professor, The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences Tel Aviv University
Rachel Green 

Rachel Green 

Bloomberg Distinguished Professor Johns Hopkins University, HHMI
Jennifer Heemstra

Jennifer Heemstra

Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry Emory University
Donald Hilvert

Donald Hilvert

Professor of Organic Chemistry ETH Zurich
Jeremiah Johnson 

Jeremiah Johnson 

Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry Program in Polymers and Soft Matter; Member, Koch Institute MIT
Chaitan Khosla

Chaitan Khosla

Baker Family Co-Director, Stanford ChEM-H Wells H. Rauser and Harold M. Petiprin Professor in the School of Engineering  Professor of Chemistry and, by courtesy, of Biochemistry  Stanford University
Adrianne Rosales

Adrianne Rosales

Assistant Professor, McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering University of Texas-Austin

Industrial Affiliates Group

EteRNA

EteRNA is a ‘citizen science’ video game created by C-GEM member Rhiju Das that engages users to solve puzzles related to the folding of RNA molecules. Rhiju has built EteRNA into a massive open laboratory to design molecular medicines, get feedback from real experiments at Stanford’s School of Medicine, and turn findings into scientific publications.

Play EteRNA

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