The Biochemistry Division includes several faculty members with well-funded, nationally recognized research programs. Areas of interest include biophysics, structural biology, cellular signaling, chemical biology and biochemical methods development.
Wonhwa Cho studies the chemical biology of membranes and membrane-binding proteins that play key roles in cell regulation and are thus implicated in major human diseases. He has been developing novel chemical, physical, computational and analytical research methods and applying them to the study of the mechanisms of cellular protein-protein and protein-lipid interactions both on a single-molecule level and on a systems biology level. Current research projects include bioinformatics-based identification and characterization of lipid binding domains, development of new molecular sensors for lipid quantification, mechanism of membrane deformation by lipid binding domains, and mechanistic studies of cellular signaling proteins in living cells.
Leslie Fung's group investigates the structure and function of the spectrin family of cytoskeleton scaffolding proteins. The research employs various biophysical methods, including EPR, fluorescence, high-resolution NMR and X-ray crystallography, to study structural differences in critical regions of spectrin isoforms. Other techniques include ITC and yeast-two-hybrid methods to study interactions of spectrin model proteins with other proteins. Findings from these studies provide insight into the molecular physiology of spectrin molecules in erythrocytes, brain cells and other cell types, and of diseases related to spectrin tetramers, such as hereditary hemolytic anemia blood diseases, and neurological disorders.
Ruixuan (Rui) Gao's group is interested in exploring how basic molecular building blocks, such as proteins, lipids, and RNAs, assemble and interact with one another to achieve particular biological functions or cause dysfunctions. Specifically, Rui's group designs and synthesizes macromolecular matrices, supramolecular assemblies, and chemical linkers/probes to selectively target, detect, and visualize molecular entities and dynamics in cells and tissues. His group is also interested in developing new microscopy and bioimaging methods to map and track these molecular targets at nanoscopic resolution. Moreover, his group seeks to advance and apply spatial-omics-based approaches to complex biological processes and structures in living organisms. Rui's group uses these tools to study structures and processes central to biology and human health, such as the ultrastructure of synapses, chemical profile of synaptic transmission, long-range neuronal connections, and pathological effects of misfolded proteins in neuropathological brains.
Ying Hu's group develops fluorescence imaging techniques to study human immunity. The multidisciplinary imaging research combines single-molecule and super-resolution microscopy, nanotechnology, biochemistry, computational modeling, and T cell biology. Major research areas include 1) new super-resolution imaging tools, 2) membrane-associated signaling in immunity, and 3) nano-bio interactions for immunoengineering.
Justin Lorieau's group research works at the interface of biophysics, physical chemistry and biochemistry. With biophysical solution NMR, solid-state NMR and protein biochemistry, the Lorieau group studies proteins and biomolecules from multiple perspectives. Research in the Lorieau group focuses on protein structure and dynamics, membrane protein biophysics and new computational and theoretical tools for biophysics.
Larry Miller develops and applies novel chemical and analytical methods to study protein function in living mammalian cells. His experimental approach incorporates synthetic organic chemistry, molecular and cell biology, and microscopy to analyze protein-protein interactions both in vivo and in vitro. Miller Group research interests include the synthesis of small molecules that specifically label recombinant proteins and impart them with unique optical and chemical functionality, the development of time-resolved fluorescence microscopy, and quantitative imaging of protein-protein interactions.
Xiaojing Yang performs research that centers on a fundamental question - how living organisms perceive, convert, and integrate physical and chemical signals into biological signals at the molecular level? To address this question, we focus on three areas of research: 1) signaling mechanisms of bacterial sensor proteins in response to light and oxygen; 2) structures and dynamics of circadian photoreceptors in plants and animals; 3) light harvesting and photosynthesis in cyanobacteria. Our research aims to gain mechanistic understanding of important biological processes via an integrated approach of crystallography, spectroscopy and biochemistry. We are also committed to further development and wide applications of dynamic crystallography that aims at direct observations of transient molecular events and reaction intermediates at the atomic resolution.
The Zhou group combines theoretical, computational, and experimental approaches to study protein biophysics. Theoretical problems of interest include protein-ligand and protein-protein binding kinetics. Computational studies have addressed allosteric communications in proteins, functional mechanisms of ion channels, and thermodynamic properties of proteins in crowded cell-like environments. Experimentally, binding kinetics of disordered proteins and liquid-liquid phase separation of proteins are of particular current interest.