- B.S. The University of Missouri-Columbia
- Ph.D. The Johns Hopkins University
- Post-Doctoral The University of Pennsylvania
Synthetic Biologists are re-imagining the proteins that do the work of living cells as small modular devices, similar to electronic components like resistors and capacitors, that can be reassembled into novel biological functions and systems – much like electrical engineers assemble large numbers of simple electronic components into devices like computers and cellular phones. This is a significant change in the biological paradigm, and it will have as large an effect on people’s everyday lives decades from now as the development of molecular biology twenty years ago is having on our lives today.
Like the physicists of the 40s and 50s, who were focused on the design of simple electronic components like transistors and diodes, my lab uses the principles of protein design to create new biological components, not yet observed in nature, to further extend the possibilities of synthetic biology. Starting from scratch, we create novel proteins that offer new functions or physical properties and then integrate them with natural proteins, other designed proteins or non-protein materials to create new biomaterials with applications in medicine, ‘green’ industrial catalysis and green energy production.
One central idea in our work derives from the knowledge that, as these proteins are non-natural, they can be made to utilize non-natural cofactors specifically tailored for their intended function. Thus a portion of the lab works on designing and synthesizing new protein cofactors. All of the work in my lab is based on NMR analysis: screening designs for structure and stability, solving three-dimensional structures of proteins for the purpose of improving their stability and activity, and analyzing the electronic structures of bound cofactors.
The current thrusts of our research aim at creating new enzyme-based cancer therapies and protein based biological solar energy devices – ‘green’ solar panels. We believe that this novel combination - proteins designed de novo coupled with naturally occurring proteins - will enable us to move beyond the confines of biology and help us to solve many of mankind’s problems.
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