iBiology: Sharing Research One Video At a Time

The growth in interdisciplinary science over the past decade has led to new developments in biological knowledge and techniques. For example,  CRISPR technology allows scientists to make specific changes to genomes and has transformed the field of genetics. As the field of biology increases in complexity due to technological innovations and expansion of knowledge, new ways to teach and communicate science must be developed. iBiology addresses this challenge by sharing science in the form of easy-to-watch video seminars,  and aims to lead the way in creating ways to spread interest in science for educational and scientific communities.

One of the main goals of iBiology is to bring research questions currently being explored by top-level scientists to students, scientists, and educators. This is most visible in the recently launched video series, “Great Questions in Life Sciences.” Investigators reveal the great scientific problems at the intersection of physics, computation, and biology that will demand attention over the coming decade. These videos offer the viewer a unique glimpse into the forefront of research and are intended to spark the curiosity of young scientists and students considering a career in life sciences research.

In talking to iBiology’s Associate Director, Dr. Shannon Behrman, we learned that, not only does iBiology want to expose the biological questions that are being actively pursued; they also hope to demystify what it would be like to become a researcher in various fields of biology answering those very questions.  Videos under the “How I Became a Scientist” section show interviews with various well-known scientists outlining their journeys to becoming researchers. Other videos under the “Careers” section show different career paths that are open to someone with a science degree. Each of these videos help to make this broad field more accessible by providing professional advice to aspiring students.  This early exposure to research helps young scientists feel like they can fit into and make a difference in the scientific community.

iBiology does not just provide a tool for students to see what current leaders in the field of biology are working on. They also provide a much-needed teaching resource. The program provides a plethora of educational resources and study tools for students in several different fields of biology, including biochemistry, genetics, microbiology, and human health. To support science teachers, iBiology provides possible questions for various assessments for students, along with a key terms index to help shape their curriculum.

For science to thrive, it needs innovative ideas.  iBiology answers this call with new approaches for getting students to become more interested in science, and by providing these students with resources to help them succeed in their scientific endeavors.  As a result, the iBiology team hopes to see more young people bringing in new and innovative approaches to current research problems in the future.

Jennifer Doudna featured as Influential Scientist in Time Magazine

Time Magazine recently published the “Time 100“, a list of influential leaders in their respective fields. We are pleased to report that MCB-funded investigator Jennifer Doudna was included as an influential scientist for her transformative research to develop gene editing technology.

Dr. Doudna , along with colleagues and collaborators, developed a now widely used genome editing tool known as the CRISPR-Cas1 system.  This invention emerged from Dr. Doudna’s interest in learning how an apparent bacterial adaptive immune system functions on a molecular level that is capable of protecting bacteria from deleterious foreign nucleic acids, including those delivered by bacteriophages. She and others found that CRISPR sequences represent a form of “memory” resulting from previous exposure to foreign DNAs and showed that fragments of these exogenous DNAs are integrated into the CRISPR array. Upon phage invasion, the CRISPR sequence is transcribed, together with a down-stream cas gene that encodes an endonuclease, such as Cas9 in Streptococcus pyogenes. The long, non-coding pre-CRISPR RNA (pre-crRNA) transcript is then processed, producing multiple different crRNAs. The crRNAs form a hybrid to a second CRISPR-encoded RNA called transactivating CRISPR RNA (tracrRNA), which has regions of complementarity to the various crRNAs. These RNA hybrid oligomers associate with the endonuclease and serve as a guide to target newly invading nucleic acids. Recognition of the foreign DNA triggers precise double-stranded cleavage, leading to complete nucleolytic degradation.

Understanding the molecular events by which CRISPRs function on the molecular level led Dr. Doudna and her collaborators to develop the pioneering genome editing capability that functions broadly across many species. Dr. Doudna gives an overview of this technology in the following video.

NSF funding for Dr. Doudna’s groundbreaking research began in 2007 and continues today.  Her research represents an excellent example of how fundamental research inspires innovation.


1CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. These repeats are often associated with coding sequences for RNA-guided DNA endonuclease enzymes, general denoted “Cas” for CRISPR-associated.

Sharing MCB Science: Watching the STARs (Small Transcription Activating RNAs)

The editors are excited about the first of what we hope to be many blog posts featuring the science of MCB-funded investigators. We plan to share a broad sampling of this research and its outcomes on our blog. If you are a) an MCB-funded researcher and b) have recently published research that you would like to share, please fill out this form to be considered for a featured post.

RNA is an important molecule found in all living organisms. To use a computer analogy, RNA acts like a circuit board, controlling DNA, nature’s hard drive. RNA helps to read genetic information and enact the programs of life, through proteins and other important biologic materials. Dr. Julius Lucks, along with post-doctoral associate James Chappell and graduate student Melissa Takahashi, has capitalized on the ability of RNA to form different folded structures via complementary base pairing to create Small Transcription Activating RNAs or STARs. STARs are a molecular “on-switch”, whose shape controls the state (off or on) of the switch. In their recent paper in Nature Chemical Biology, the Lucks Lab researchers describe using STARs to activate the first steps in gene expression (the “printing out” of proteins) in bacteria. The researchers also provide data to support the idea of snapping STARs together to create advanced genetic programs within bacteria.  These examples demonstrate the potential application of STARS to allow bioengineers or synthetic biologists to write new genetic programs, which could engineer cells to address health and environmental challenges. Ongoing research in the lab is focused on using STARs for molecular diagnostics.

The research group is committed to broader impacts and they have recently created a summer course at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories in Synthetic Biology, where they collaborate with other synthetic biology researchers to develop an ideal training ground for students interested in learning more about the field. Students range from first-year graduate students, to industry professionals, to senior Professors. The course, which has been held for the past 3 summers, is interactive, incorporating research, top-notch guest speakers, and hands-on activities.

To engage the broader community in synthetic biology, the Lucks Lab is closely collaborating with the Sciencenter in Ithaca, NY,as part of the NSF-funded “Multi-Site Public Engagement with Science – Synthetic Biology” project. The goal of the project is to create hands-on activities for children and their families. For example, the group is working on developing a card game that can teach adults and children about the basics of synthetic biology. The cards feature images and facts about engineered microbes, such as, how microbes help humans create important medicines.

Want to have your research shared on the MCB blog? Submit your information here

Share Your Science Via Our Blog

The Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences (MCB) supports fundamental research and related activities designed to promote understanding of complex living systems at the molecular, sub-cellular, and cellular levels. MCB invites you to submit your research to be featured on our blog in order to inform our stakeholders of the outstanding research we fund, and to better foster a sense of community among MCB principal investigators.

We hope to share a broad sampling of this research and its outcomes on our blog. If you are a) an MCB funded researcher and b) have recently published research that you would like to share, please fill out this form to have your research featured.

 This section of the blog will present highlights from the published research projects of MCB-funded principal investigators. By submitting this information, you acknowledge and agree that NSF MCB reserves the right to use and edit the submitted content in the preparation of an original blog post suitable for the MCB blog’s readership. MCB PIs who are interested in having their work considered for this section of the blog are invited to submit their information via this form with details of the publication on which a blog post would be based.  The Division continues to support a broad range of projects in the molecular and cellular biosciences, and highlighted projects should not be taken as examples of areas of special emphasis for support.