Dr. Wendy Gordon is an Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota, where she leads a research group focused on cellular mechanosensation. Dr. Gordon's 2018 publication in Communications Biology (Aird et al 2018, Communications Biology, DOI: 10.1038/s42003-018-0054-2) was one of our very first articles.
Could you please share a few details about your academic background, including your current position and research interests?
I am an Associate Professor in the Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics department at University of Minnesota, and I have been here for about 8 years. My lab generally studies how cells sense and respond to mechanical stimuli in their microenvironment. We develop assays to identify mechanosensing proteins that mediate critical cellular processes and disease pathogenesis in hopes of discovering new mechanotherapeutic avenues. To enable force spectroscopy and molecular tension sensor experiments, we ventured into developing better ways to covalently link proteins and DNA, which led us to this cool class of proteins called HUH-endonucleases. These small proteins involved in processes such as rolling circle replication in viruses form robust sequence-specific bonds with single stranded DNA that can be harnessed as fusion tags (HUH-tags) for many applications, such as genome engineering.
You previously published with Communications Biology (Aird et al. 2018, DOI: 10.1038/s42003-018-0054-2). What were the key results of that study, and how did they tie into the mission of your research group?
In this study, we fused an HUH-endonuclease to Cas9, which allowed us to covalently tether the donor DNA template required for precise gene edits to the Cas9/guide RNA complex. This temporally and spatially localizes the DNA to the site of the double stranded break to enhance homology directed repair and thus precise gene editing.
How has this project evolved since that publication? Are there any exciting future directions that you can discuss?
We are still working on some other applications of HUH-tagged Cas9 in genome engineering, but are also using HUH-tags to enable other types of gene editing, such as prime editing and direct RNA editing.
Why did you choose to submit your work to a new journal at the time?
Well honestly, around the time that our work was submitted, there were several other labs pursuing the covalent tethering of donor DNA to the Cas9 RNP complex. We felt that Comms Bio might more efficiently review our work to get it out there! We were so happy with our experience and had an amazing editor!
Was open-access an important consideration to you at the time, or do you think that it influenced the reception to your work?
Absolutely! We always try to publish our work as open access as one of our main goals as a lab is to make tools more accessible to other labs.
This interview was conducted by Associate Editor, Zhijuan Qiu.
Banner Image Credit: andreas160578 (Pixabay).