Yeo earns NSF CAREER award to study intestinal mucus, gut disorders

Jingjie Yeo, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell, has earned a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award to study the molecular structures of intestinal mucus, with the ultimate goal of contributing to new therapeutics for treating human gut disorders.

The first line of microbial defense in the gut is intestinal mucus, but invading biofilms can cause a wide range of gut disorders – a challenging problem to research because of the complex mechanics and dynamics of mucosal molecular assembly and bacterial adhesion, according to Yeo’s proposal “Nanomechanics of Bacterial Mucoadhesion and Growth on Healthy and Diseased Human Gut Mucus.”

Yeo will use the award to advance computational modeling and simulations that offer new insights into the nanoscale mechanics of healthy and diseased mucus in the human gut. Specific goals detailed in the proposal include:

  • Determining how the supramolecular assembly of mucins is altered by disease-related changes in glycan compositions and structures, and bacterial enzymatic degradation of glycans.
  • Uncovering the molecular mechanisms of bacterial adhesion on mucus surfaces to investigate why glycan assemblies in enzymatically degraded and unhealthy mucins will have greatly differing bacterial binding characteristics compared to healthy mucins.
  • Unraveling the effects of mucoadhesion on bacterial growth in mucus to probe how biofilms adhere to mucus and proliferate under the influence of mucus degradation and physiological mucus clearance.

Aside from contributing to the design of mucoadhesive therapeutics and antimicrobials, the research will serve as a foundation for the development of new engineered living materials that use biofilm for specific engineering objectives.

The award will also support several educational initiatives, including Station1, a non-profit higher education institution where Yeo is a co-instructor, and the Sibley School’s Future Leaders in Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, or FLAME, program.

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