Oscar Vargas of the Söll Group awarded an EAGER Grant from NSF

Oscar Vargas of the Söll Group
October 12, 2022

Oscar Vargas, PhD, Associate Research Scientist in the laboratory of Dieter Söll, recently received an EArly-concept Grants for Exploratory Research (EAGER) from the NSF. According to the NSF, the award is intended to “support exploratory work in its early stages on untested, but potentially transformative, research ideas or approaches.” It is geared toward work considered “high risk-high payoff” and that employs “radically different approaches” and perspectives.

Research in the Söll Group focuses primarily on the application of synthetic biology to develop biological systems for the production of proteins with non-natural amino acids. Vargas, who started in the group in 2014 as a postdoctoral researcher, plans to apply the funding toward understanding the molecular mechanism and the biological function of mistranslation machinery he and others described in a PNAS paper last year, “Bacterial translation machinery for deliberate mistranslation of the genetic code.”

In the paper, the researchers showed that some Aminoacyl-transfer RNA (tRNA) synthetases (aaRSs) are repurposed for deliberate mistranslation of the genetic code, allowing some organisms to encode two amino acids using a single sense codon. According to the authors, the work “illustrates that extant genomes have many exciting functionalities that are currently hidden under a disguise of canonical tRNA synthetases and tRNAs.”

EAGER offers funding of up to $300,000 for two years and is non-renewable. In contrast to typical peer-review grant processes, awardees are selected directly by NSF program staff and are required to speak with a program officer prior to submission. More information on the grant can be found through the NSF.

By Brigitte Naughton