News & Announcements

Proving the value of new fluorescent probes and inhibitors



Byron Purse’s (San Diego State University, 2015 & 2016 New Investigator, CSU I-Corps 2017 Summer Sprint) team designs fluorescent molecular probes for the study of nucleic acids and their interactions with other biological molecules. He explains, “Our bodies comprise more than 200 different types of cells, all with the same genetic code, but a cardiac muscle cell looks and functions very differently from a neuron, for example…we're aiming to prove the value of our new fluorescent probes by applying them to research into how cells control the expression of their genetic code, leading to different cell types and functions.”

To get the lab up and running, Purse turned to the CSUPERB New Investigator program. “CSUPERB is helpful with external grant proposals for several reasons. First, any time you're writing a competitive application for funding, it forces you to refine your message. It's just not possible these days to get federal grants without a crystal-clear statement of purpose and expected impact. Second, we always have limited resources in our academic research labs. CSUPERB provides very valuable funds to generate the preliminary results that are a prerequisite for virtually any major external grant. My best advice to other CSUPERB New Investigators is to focus constantly on refining your research plans, your message, and to critically assess the focus of your research. We have made a number of pivots. But one should always keep in mind that you can't expect to have a big impact if you aren't working on an important problem.”

Purse’s effort paid off with the receipt of two NSF grants. He says, it “changes everything. It's enough money to enable multiple collaborations, hire a few students to focus 100% on research, to pay operating expenses and equipment maintenance costs, and to support some conference travel for disseminating results. NSF funding is also a powerful acknowledgment of the importance of your work… The chance to participate in research is a truly special opportunity. You get to make lasting contributions to the knowledge of mankind. It's hard work and can be very frustrating, but I also think that it's an extraordinarily meaningful endeavor.”

Dr. Purse puts a lot of work into mentoring students in his lab. He says, “I have more interest in my lab than I do capacity. For that reason, the single most important thing that I look for is new students who have a genuine desire to put in their best possible effort. My star undergrads knew that they could hugely impact their own future opportunities by generating real research outcomes, including authorship on papers and conference presentations. They've succeeded tremendously, but through no small amount of effort. Determination and commitment pays off.” He also took a team through CSU I-Corps last summer. The I-Corps experience “helped my students to be more confident with the networking that's essential for success…We also made a number of new connections because of I-Corps and are following up on several prospective applications for our fluorescent molecular probes that could have real commercial potential.”

After training at The Scripps Research Institute and Stockholm University, Purse says, “I like the camaraderie at SDSU. We're a very diverse group of faculty, staff, and students, and I think that diversity brings a lot to the table and makes all of our jobs more interesting and fun. I always feel a little competition with my colleagues, and I know that other faculty do too, but at SDSU it's a good thing. We're all trying to do the best possible science, contribute to our university, and a little friendly competition helps everyone to be their best. At SDSU, I think that we're always trying help one another to achieve the next big thing.”

Burns, D.D., Teppang, K.C., Lee, R.W., Lokensgard, M. & Purse, B.W. (2017) Fluorescence turn-on sensing of DNA duplex formation by a tricyclic cytidine analogue. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 139: 1372-1275.

Provisional US Patent Application Numbers 62/420,347 and 62/533,897 (2016, 2017) B.W. Purse, D. Burns, K. Teppang, R. Lee & M. Lokensgard. Tricyclic Cytidine Compounds for Fluorescence Turn-On Sensing of DNA Duplex Formation.
Captions for photos below (left to right):
1. Dr. Byron Purse, Associate Professor of Chemistry & Biochemistry, in his office at San Diego State University.
2. Doctoral student M. Benjamin Turner works on the synthesis of fluorescent nucleoside analogues for biophysics studies.
3. Undergraduate researcher Irazema Islas works on the purification of a new type of solvatochromic (color-changing in response to solvent) nucleoside analogue for the detection of specific DNA sequences.

This story is one in a series of PI profiles published in concert with the AY 17-18 CSUPERB Annual Report. Read the report here and find other profiles here.