Claire Behning

About Me: I am a senior undergraduate student at WPI. My majors are B.S Biology and Biotechnology and B.S. Psychology, as well as participating in the Teacher Preparation Program for High School Biology certification. Outside of school, I enjoy knitting/crochet, baking, and reading.

About the Lab: The mission of the Young lab is “to develop and use genomics-driven approaches to unlock biosynthetic potential and advance synthetic biology, which will result in new cell-based factories for biological production.” The lab genetically edits microbes, using metabolic engineering, systems biology, protein engineering, and synthetic biology. Their goal is to unlock organisms’ potential and optimize biosynthetic pathways which produce reaction products of interest to industry and medicine. The Young Lab’s research covers a wide scope of projects including, novel synthetic biology, creation of chemical and fuel cell factories, expanding applications of membrane protein engineering, and detecting genetically engineered organisms.


“Cell factories” are a method of biological engineering which allows for the optimization of cellular processes, in order to produce desired quantities of useful bio-products. Yeast can be used as a cell factory for many different bioprocesses which can be beneficial for healthcare and food industries, such as production of components for pharmaceuticals, food additives, supplements, and more.  Our project is based on the identification, cataloging, and comparison of wild type yeasts which are sourced from favorable and hostile environments. The goal of this research is to identify the types of yeast that grow in varying levels of favorability, and then compare how different environments influence the species and type of yeast colonies that grow in these samples. This information can be used to inform and influence decisions about the possible species of yeast that can be used in genetic engineering and bioremediation of toxic or contaminated regions.

Our hope is that yeast from hostile environments such as contaminated soil, runoff drainage, or gasoline pumps will be identified. If identified, these yeasts may be able to be used in future research and engineering to contribute to bioremediation. Because these yeasts were found in regions with less favorable conditions, they may have more survivability than those found in cleaner soils, waters, or plants. These yeast could potentially be better suited to be used as vector organisms due to this higher tolerance, which would contribute to their success in heavy metal or oil bioremediation processes such as biosorption, biotransformation, and bioaccumulation.  Additionally, certain yeasts found in toxic or hostile conditions may already have existing mechanisms of metabolic bioremediation that could be optimized.

Weekly Updates:

  • Week 1:
    • Program orientation
    • We explored several concepts and important information in synthetic biology
    • Learned theory and steps of PCR and CRIPSR processes
    • Toured the Young lab space where we will work
    • Discussed possible directions out project could take
    • Started Research Proposal
    • Completed weekly PD session on integrated STEM
  • Week 2:
    • Met with faculty advisor to create formal plans for project
    • Submitted initial project proposal for review and made follow up edits
    • Learned in lab training on techniques and skills including micropipetting, preparation of media, inoculating plates, and Mini Prep for PCR
    • Began work on literature review
    • Created and revised initial methodology
    • Meetings with graduate student mentor for feedback on proposal, methodologies, and next steps in the project
    • Completed weekly PD session on engineering design process
  • Week 3
    • Started working on lesson plan and finding associated standards
    • Began collected samples from predetermined locations
    • Inoculating and plating of initial samples
    • Revised and finalized methodology
    • Further refined research proposal
    • Meeting with faculty mentor
    • Completed weekly PD on 3/2 dimensional teaching and the NGSS Practices
  • Week 4
    • Collected final samples from preselected locations and finished processing initial samples
    • Continued inoculation of samples
    • Plating, dilution, picking colonies from samples
    • Selected samples of interest for colony isolation and sequencing
    • Meeting with faculty mentor
    • Completed weekly PD session focused on 2-D Assessment and rubrics
    • Further refined our Research Proposal to reflect our updated project objectives and methods
  • Week 5
    • Ran gDNA extraction process on samples
    • Found concentration of samples, and diluted them to usable concentrations
    • Ran PCR and trouble shot PCR process
    • Cleaned DNA
    • Completed weekly PD session focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as well as incorporating real world problems
    • Completed and began revising draft of poster
    • Attended feedback session for posters and editing according to feedback
    • Added real world problem and expanded on detail in lesson plan
    • Meeting with faculty mentor
  • Week 6