The Benefits of E. coli, and Other Collaborative Efforts

No one does science alone. In fact, Justin Topp, associate professor of biology, is proof, having watched many opportunities present themselves as a result of his involvement in the formation of the North Shore Biotechnology Consortium. Topp believes the Consortium will benefit both faculty and staff in the sciences across the North Shore.  Here’s a glimpse of the partnerships and projects Topp is involved in:

Justin Topp

“One Consortium project in particular that I am involved in is to create a ‘Google Map’ of protein expression in one of the most well studied organisms on this planet, E. coli.  Although most of the general public thinks E. coli is something to be scared of, there is actually  ‘good’ (beneficial) and ‘bad’ (pathogenic, i.e. cause disease) strains.  And unfortunately, as is common with humans, the ‘bad’ strains are the ones that get all the attention!  In reality, you are quite happy to have one of the ‘good’ strains in your gut making vitamin K for you as we speak. 

“The ‘Google Map’ project is a collaborative proteomics effort with scientists at Cell Signaling, Sage Science, and Waters (all companies on the North Shore) to make a visual and interactive database of all of the proteins expressed by a common laboratory (non-pathogenic strain) of E. coli.  This tool will be of great use for other scientists as it could serve as a living reference for many other studies, including making it easier to compare, characterize, and even better treat novel pathogenic strains that cause severe disease in humans.

“The Consortium has also helped create additional opportunities for our students.Last fall, I was very grateful to be able to take my Microbiology class to Bruker Corp. in Billerica, MA, to expose them to a new method of bacterial characterization that is quickly becoming a gold standard in clinical microbiology.  Students designed their own studies to isolate bacteria with properties that they were interested in (examples included bacteria that can live on caffeine alone, bacteria that can degrade plastic, bacteria that glow, etc.) and we were able to identify some of these bacteria using Bruker’s instruments and protocol.  I am also working on an agreement with Gary Magnant, the CEO of Sage Science, whereby students will perform internships at his company and learn how to use his remarkable new device device, the BluePippin.  This instrument has potentially broad uses in the purification of biomolecules and the Sage Science-Gordon collaboration will focus on application validation and development.  We will be provided with instruments and reagents, and students will finish their projects with me as their faculty supervisor after a short internship on site at Sage Science. It is an exciting collaboration for all involved!”

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