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The Washington Research Foundation Fellowship

Ben Horst, Mathematics and Chemistry, 2011-12 WRFF

Ben Horst photoAlthough I was not completely certain what I wanted to pursue as a field of study when I came to the University of Washington, I was enthralled with the idea of research and studying something completely new. I found the Keller Lab in the spring of 2010 and have been volunteering and working in their lab ever since. I was ecstatic to be working with Sarah Keller, and the others in the lab; they were studying a relatively new topic in lipid membranes, there a lot of hands on work for me to do, and I was in a lab that was extremely interdisciplinary (we’re a Biophysics lab in the Chemistry Department). I have worked on a variety of projects including refining a new fabrication technique for the formation of vesicles, as well as a collaboration project with the Mougous Lab in the Microbiology Department on Type VI Secretion Systems. I will be starting a new project in the winter and working with a postdoc to determine how miscibility temperature of lipid membranes varies with composition as the surface pressure is held constant.

I know that my time in the Keller Lab will be excellent preparation as I look forward to my Honors Thesis next year, as well as graduate school in the coming years. I have had the opportunity to meet with world renowned scientists in our field, present my own work at a variety of different symposiums on campus, and I will be attending the 2012 Biophysical Society Meeting in San Diego this coming February. I am still undecided as to what my focus will be when it comes to graduate school, but the Keller Lab has inspired me to continue with my education, and contribute to the world of scientific research in any way that I can. I would like to thank the Washington Research Foundation for supporting me as I undertake my second full year of research, as their generosity has afforded me the opportunity to continue to do research as well as continue my other hobbies: marching band and a cappella!

Mentor: Sarah Keller, Chemistry

Project Title: Fabrication of Giant Unilamellar Vesicles – c-DICE

Abstract: A vesicle is a closed lipid bilayer membrane that separates one aqueous solution from another. All cell walls contain a lipid membrane as their base and proteins within the membrane control the transfer of materials and signals in and out of the cell. I am optimizing a recently developed method of vesicle formation called continuous droplet interface crossing encapsulation (c-DICE). This technique utilizes centripetal force to coax water droplets into and out of an oil solution that is saturated with lipids. As each drop enters the oil layer, the hydrophilic heads of the lipids surround the droplet. When the droplet exits, the lipids that surround the water droplet pick up lipids on the outer layer of the oil to form the complete bilayer. After the vesicles are formed, I use microscopic techniques to observe the composition of the vesicle membranes and to assess whether vesicles are leaky. This technique allows vesicles to be made that mimic natural membranes by containing a high fraction of charged lipids and cholesterol, and by containing different lipid compositions on the inner and outer membrane layer (i.e., by being asymmetric), both previously difficult tasks to perform.