Biological Chemistry

The highly interdisciplinary research in the Department’s biological chemistry area involves both experimental and computational projects. Studies focus on protein structure, nucleic acids, peptides and biomodel systems, and bioinorganic topics. Several faculty work in the bioanalytic area to develop methods with which to probe biological activity and detect biological molecules. In biophysical chemistry, research explores the connections between physical chemistry and the chemical function of biological molecules, including protein folding, nucleic acid structure, biological electron transfer, and macromolecular dynamics.

Core Faculty

Allen, Karen

Karen Allen

Area: Enzyme mechanisms and macromolecular crystallography

Research in the Allen Group is concerned with diverse aspects of protein structure, function, and design. The laboratory employs a multidisciplinary approach involving state-of-the-art X-ray crystallography and spectroscopy, molecular modeling, enzymology, bioinformatics, and molecular biology to address fundamental problems at the interface of Enzymology and Structural Biology.

Professor John Caradonna

John Caradonna

Area: Bioinorganic chemistry

The Caradonna Group investigates non-heme iron metalloproteins, focusing on the chemistry of metalloenzyme active sites involved in biological oxidation reactions.  Using chemical, molecular biological, and biophysical (spectroscopic) techniques, their goal is to develop a global understanding of active site metal centers and the role of protein matrix in regulating, modulating, and tuning these properties.

Sean Elliott

Sean Elliott

Area: Bioinorganic chemistry and metallobiochemistry

The Elliott Group uses Protein film voltammetry (PFV) to explore the electron transfer pathways and redox-dependent catalytic chemistry of complex metalloproteins such as sulfite reductase and multicopper oxidases. They also develop proteomic tools to enable probing the ‘metallome’ — a complete read-out of the metal-binding components of biological pathways. These experiments provide insights into the role of metal ions in biological chemistry.

Professor Rosina Georgiadis

Rosina Georgiadis

Area: Bioanalytical chemistry of interfaces

The Georgiadis Group focuses on the development and use of novel label-free detection methods based on surface plasmon resonance (SPR) spectroscopy. Current projects are focused around the development of novel label-free DNA microarray technologies, electric field effects at interfaces, DNA/protein interactions, and drug interactions.

Mark Grinstaff

Mark Grinstaff

Area: Macromolecular, bioinorganic, and biological chemistry

The Grinstaff Group pursues highly interdisciplinary translational research in biological and macromolecular chemistry.  Among their projects are novel dendrimers, “biodendrimers,” for tissue engineering and biotechnological applications (corneal lacerations, delivery of anti-cancer drugs and DNA, and biodegradable scaffolds for cartilage repair). They also create “interfacial biomaterials” that control biology on plastic, metal, and ceramic surfaces and  electrochemical-based sensors/devices using conducting polymer nanostructures and specific DNA structural motifs.

Pinghua Liu

Pinghua Liu

Area: Signal transduction pathways in human innate-immune responses

The Liu Group focuses on the chemistry/biology interface with emphasis on the chemical basis of pathogen and host interactions, as well as the chemical nature of the biological clock. These projects address two areas: mechanistic studies of the metallo-proteins using both biochemical and biophysical methods and identification of other components using genomic, proteomic, and biochemical approaches. Their goals are to develop broad-spectrum antibiotics, elucidate the mechanism of the isoprenoid biosynthesis pathway intermediate-triggered human innate-immune responses, and unravel the time recording mechanism inside the cell and its relationship to both aging and development.

Deborah Perlstein

Deborah Perlstein

Area: Biochemistry and enzymology

The research the Perlstein Group lies at the interface of chemistry and biology with a focus on bioinorganic chemistry. They are currently developing new projects that will use the tools of chemical biology, including biophysical techniques, enzymology, microscopy, and molecular biology, to understand iron-sulfur cluster containing proteins and bacterial cell division.

Björn Reinhard

Björn Reinhard

Area: Biophysical, physical, nano-bio, and materials chemistry

The Reinhard Group develops materials and methods that  advance  understanding of complex chemical and biological systems on a molecular level. One objective is to gain better insights into the properties and mode of operations of enzymes and complex molecular machines that govern fundamental life processes. A second objective is to develop new and useful products from these “nanotechnologies.” The Group combines engineered nanomaterials and self-assembled biological components into useful devices for applications in sensing, biocatalysis, and synthesis.

Professor John E. Straub

John Straub

Area: Protein structure and dynamics

The Straub group focuses on the theoretical and computational modeling of biophysical systems. Particular areas of interest include ultrafast dynamics and energy transfer in heme proteins, the development of computational algorithms for structural optimization and sampling in proteins and organic crystals, and the modeling of peptide and protein aggregation.

Professor Tom Tullius

Thomas Tullius

Area: Biochemistry, genomics, bioinformatics

The Tullius Group focuses on developing and applying new chemical probe methods for determining the structure of DNA, RNA, and DNA-protein complexes in solution. They introduced the use of the hydroxyl radical as a high-resolution chemical footprinting reagent for nucleic acids. The Group uses deuterium kinetic isotope experiments to obtain detailed information on the chemical mechanism of oxidative damage to DNA and RNA that is induced by the hydroxyl radical.

Professor Arturo Vegas

Arturo Vegas

Areas: Organic synthesis, biological chemistry, and drug delivery

The Vegas group pursues general and systematic approaches to developing targeted therapeutic carriers for the treatment of multiple human diseases. Projects in the lab are focused on developing novel chemical tools, materials and approaches for targeting therapeutics to diseased tissues, with an emphasis on cancer and diabetes. For cancer, the primary focus will be developing conjugate and nanoparticle based approaches that control the physiological distribution and uptake of therapeutic molecules to tumors and use of materials to immunomodulate the tumor microenvironment. For diabetes, our focus will be selective destruction or functional blocking of cells responsible for the underlying type 1 autoimmunity.

Adrian Whitty

Adrian Whitty

Area: Biochemistry and bioorganic chemistry

The Whitty Group research centers around reversible noncovalent interactions involving proteins: how they regulate function in complex biological systems such as whole cells, and how they can be exploited in the development of artificial agonists and antagonists for use as protein or small molecule drugs. Their perspective is primarily quantitative and mechanistic, aiming to understand the macroscopic functional behavior of the system in terms of the structures, properties and interactions of the molecules involved.


Associated Faculty

Sandor Vajda, Department of Biomedical Engineering

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