Washington University in St. Louis announced that it is a Grand Challenges Explorations winner, an initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Tae Seok Moon, PhD, assistant professor of energy, environmental & chemical engineering, will pursue an innovative global health and development research project titled “Programmed Killing of Parasite Eggs by Probiotic Organisms.”
Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE) funds individuals worldwide to explore ideas that can break the mold in how we solve persistent global health and development challenges. Moon’s project is one of the Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10 grants announced May 21 by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
To receive funding, Moon and other Grand Challenges Explorations Round 10 winners demonstrated in a two-page online application a bold idea in critical global heath and development topic areas that included agriculture development, neglected tropical diseases and communications. Applications for the next round will be accepted starting September 2013.
Moon’s project addresses parasite infection in people in developing countries. While there are drugs to help kill parasite worms and eggs in the body, there is no long-term strategy to prevent disease transmission. Moon has proposed to engineer probiotic bacteria that would be added to donated foods, reproduce in the intestine where parasite eggs are produced, and come out of the body with the eggs in waste.
The probiotic bacteria contain a genetic circuit, or a computer, which distinguishes the outside conditions from those in the human body. Once the bacteria come out of the human body with the eggs, the genetic circuit triggers a “suicide bomb,” killing the parasite eggs and the bacteria in the process, eliminating any potential harm to humans or to the environment.
Moon, who joined the faculty at Washington University in St. Louis in July 2012, directs his research toward creating programmable cells that process multiple input signals and produce desirable outputs for real-world applications. An expert in the design and construction of genetic circuits, he aims to build synthetic gene circuits to control and improve cellular processes.
Combining his research experiences with more than five years of experience in the biotechnology industry, he envisions his career as transforming biology research from an “observation” approach to a “synthesis-based engineering” activity to address energy, environment and health issues.
About Grand Challenges Explorations
Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Launched in 2008, 800-plus people in more than 50 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The grant program is open to anyone from any discipline and from any organization. The initiative uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with short two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded two times a year. Successful projects have the opportunity to receive a follow-on grant of up to $1 million.
The School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 120 full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, 700 graduate students and more than 19,000 alumni, it is working to leveragepartnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.