Sun Receives Paul Hatheway Terry Scholarship

Zhining Sun photo

Zhining (Jennings) Sun received Paul Hatheway Terry Scholarship in recognition of excellence in research. Research Summary: Genetically encodable RNA-based fluorescent sensors have been a revolutionary tool for real-time imaging of important biological small molecules in live cells. Guanosine tetraphosphate (also known as ppGpp or “Magic Spot”) in particular is one of the targets that plays an integral role in cell regulation. Its presence in bacteria cells triggers the stringent response which helps the cells to survive the harsh living conditions via various pathways. Although many researches have been done to study its functions, people still have not been able to fully understand it due to the lack of tools to monitor it in live cells. I engineered a naturally occurring ppGpp riboswitch into an RNA-based fluorescent sensor and achieved imaging of ppGpp in live E. coli cells. After half a century since its discovery, we are the first group to ever visualize ppGpp and provide information on its cellular dynamics and cell-to-cell variations. Now I’m working on the multiplex imaging project to study ppGpp and other related targets simultaneously, which will discover the potential correlation between the targets as well as how they affect the cell biology.