Nucleic acids are exquisitely adept at molecular recognition and assembly, enabling them to direct nearly all of the processes that make life possible. These capabilities have been fine-tuned by billions of years of evolution, and more recently, have been harnessed in the laboratory to enable the use of DNA and RNA for applications that are completely unrelated to their canonical biological roles. In our lab, we seek to use DNA and RNA for applications in biosensing and biomolecular imaging. Specifically, we utilize DNA aptamers as recognition elements for the development of new assays for small-molecule detection and enantiopurity measurement. This has enabled applications including high-throughput monitoring of small-molecule enantiopurity for reaction optimization. We have also harnessed the specificity of protein-nucleic acid recognition for selective enrichment of inosine-containing RNAs using EndoV, enabling the identification of new sites of A-to-I editing in cells.
Jen Heemstra received her B.S. in Chemistry from the University of California, Irvine, in 2000. At Irvine, she performed undergraduate research with Prof. James Nowick investigating the folding of synthetic beta-sheet mimics, which instilled in her a love of supramolecular chemistry. Jen then moved to the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, where she completed her Ph.D. with Prof. Jeffrey Moore in 2005 studying the reactivity of pyridine-functionalized phenylene ethynylene cavitands. After a brief stint in industry as a medicinal chemist, she moved to Harvard University to pursue postdoctoral research with Prof. David Liu exploring mechanisms for templated nucleic acid synthesis. In 2010, Jen began her independent career in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Utah, and was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in 2016. In 2017, Jen and her research group moved to the Department of Chemistry at Emory University where she was promoted to Full Professor in 2021. Research in the Heemstra lab is focused on harnessing the molecular recognition and self-assembly properties of nucleic acids for applications in biosensing and bioimaging.