UT Tyler Office of Marketing and Communications

UT Tyler Earns NSF Grant to Advance Biological Sciences, Enrich Biosafety

June 19, 2019

Media Contact: Beverley Golden
Senior Director of Media Relations
Marketing and Communications
The University of Texas at Tyler

The University of Texas at Tyler announced today that the Department of Biology received a three-year National Science Foundation grant to conduct advanced research in the biological sciences.

The nearly $442,000 award will provide UT Tyler the resources to develop and examine genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and how they can potentially enhance both biosafety and environmental protection.

Led by UT Tyler assistant professor Dr. Clement Chan, the research team includes graduate student Catherine Martini of Lindale and lab technician Rey Dimas of Tyler, who recently graduated from UT Tyler's undergraduate biology program.

"Biotechnology is one of the fastest growing industrial sectors in Texas," Chan said. "Through this project, UT Tyler students will appreciate that biological sciences are not only something they learn in a classroom, but they're also a promising way for improving our life and society. Our long-term goal is to facilitate the proliferation of biotech industries in East Texas, enhancing the diversity of industry structures in this region."

Chan studies systems and synthetic biology. He focuses on protein engineering, quantitative characterization of biological systems; and the development of genetically modified organisms with new biological behavior.

Through an approach called module swapping, Chan said the team will be able to alter the properties of proteins in GMOs and essentially control biological activities by using various environment signals.

"We will use engineered transcriptional regulators to develop GMOs that can only survive in a highly specific environment — meaning they can only live in places with the presence of specific environmental signals and also the absence of some other signals," he said. "We suspect that if dangerous organisms escape from an industrial plant or from a laboratory, the new environment with a different set of signals will cause them to actively kill themselves, so that they cannot pollute the environment or infect us."

Serving UT Tyler since Spring 2017, Chan received a University grant that provided funds to acquire preliminary support and data for the NSF award application. He also was recognized by UT System and received a two-year Rising STARS Award, which provided the resources to establish his research laboratory at the University. He holds a Ph.D. in biological chemistry.

A member of the prestigious UT System, The University of Texas at Tyler focuses on student success and innovative research in the more than 80 undergraduate and graduate degree programs offered. With more than 10,000 students, UT Tyler has facilities in Tyler, Longview, Palestine and Houston.