Associate Professor of Biology
Ph.D. Plant Pathology, Cornell University
M.S. Biological Sciences, Cal Poly Pomona
B.S. Biological Sciences, University of California, Irvine
Research Focus: Cost-efficient peptide biotechnologies
We develop novel peptides and peptide delivery systems for low-cost, large-scale applications. We are especially interested in peptides and delivery systems that can solve Third-World problems.
1) Design and production of antimicrobial peptides
Due to the lack of new antibiotics in the development pipleine, we may be approaching the "pst-antibiotic era". New antimicrobial materials are being sought to replace or supplement antibiotics. Strong candidates include cystine-stabilized peptides that are part of the innate immune system of humans, plants and insects, as well as toxins and venoms. We are especially interested in peptides with a pattern of cystine stabilization that we have designed as sequential tri-disulfide bonded peptides (STPs). In collaboration with Erich Baker (Baylor Computer Sciences), we have developed algorithms for the in silico discovery of STPs (Islam et al., 2015) and are working on algorithms which more narrowly identify STPs with specific targets. Complementary to this, we have developed expertise at high-yield production of STPs in both E. coli and tobacco, which allow us to test in silico designs in the laboratory.
2) Mosquitocidal nectar plants
Male mosquitos feed exclusively on nectar while female mosquitoes need nectar to fuel their flights to find a blood meal. We have identified Impatiens walleriana as a plant which is highly attractive to mosquitoes and is easily transformed genetically (Chen and Kearney, 2015). We are developing this plant as a model system to study the delivery of anti-mosquito and anti-dengue proteins through nectar to the mosquito. We are currently isolating a nectar-specific promoter from impatiens and working in collaboration with Yinghui Dan of Virginia Polytechnic University to produce transgenic impatiens plants.
3) Plant produced nanoparticle vaccines
In collaboration with Alison McCormick of Touro University, California, we have produced 300 nm nanoparticles in plants in a project funded by the Gates Foundation. These nanoparticles comprise an inner RNA core, which can replicate in human or plant cells, and a highly protective outer protein coat. They are avidly taken up by dendritic cells, the main antigen presenting cell of the human immune system. The RNA used is modified from Flock House virus, an insect virus, and the coat consists of Tobacco mosaic virus coat protein. The genes encoding these are delivered by agroinoculation to the chromosomes of intact plants, and the leaves are then harvested for nanoparticle purification a week later (Zhou et al., 2015). Our newly patented plant viral vector, FECT (Liu and Kearney, 2010), is also used in this process. Currently, we are directing the cellular localization of each component to improve encapsidation and yield from the plant production systems.
Courses Currently Taught
Molecular Genetics (BIO 4306)
Biotechnology (BIO 4303)
Virology (BIO 5302)
Cell Medicine and Biotechnology (BMS 5308)
Graduate Program Director, Biomedical Studies
Chair, University Institutional Biosafety Committee
“Highly efficient suppressor-dependent protein expression in plants with a viral vector.” Patent number US 8,344,208. Jan. 1, 2013. C. Kearney and Z. Liu, Baylor University
1. *Islam S.M.A., Sajet T., *Kearney C.M., Baker E.J. 2015. PredSTP: a highly accurate SVM based model to predict sequential cystine stabilized pepties. 2015. BMC Bioinformatics 16:210
doi:10.1186/s12859-015-0633-x Editor's Pick
2. *Chen, Z.Y. and *Kearney, C.M. 2015. Nectar protein content and attractiveness to Aedes aegypti and Culex pipiens in plants with nectar/insect associations. 2015. Acta Tropica 145:81-88.
3. *Zhou Y.Y., Maharaj P.D., Mallojosyula J.K., McCormick A.A., *Kearney C.M. 2015. In planta Production of Flock House virus transencapsidated RNA and its potential use as a vaccine. Molecular Biotechnology 57:325-336.
4. Maharaj P.D., Mallojosyula J.K., Lee G., Thi P., *Zhou Y., *Kearney C.M., McCormick A.A. 2014. Nanoparticle encapsidation of Flock house virus by auto assembly of Tobacco mosaic virus coat protein. International Journal of Molecular Sciences 15(10):18540-56
5. *Liu Z., *Kearney C.M. 2010. An efficient Foxtail mosaic virus vector system with reduced environmental risk. BMC Biotechnology 2010, 10:88
6. *Liu, Z., Kearney C.M. 2010. A tobamovirus expression vector for agroinfection of legumes and Nicotiana. Journal of Biotechnology 147:151-159.
7. *Liu Z., Bhattacharyyaa S., Ning B., Midoro-Horiuti T., Czerwinski E.W., Goldblum R.M., Mort A., *Kearney C.M. 2010. Plant-expressed recombinant mountain cedar allegen Jun a 1 is allergenic and has limited pectate lyase activity. International Archives of Allergy and Immunology 153:347-358.*Kearney Lab members