Protein and Cellular Engineering
Protein engineers alter, design, and synthesize protein molecules for new and specialized uses, both to explore biology and to exploit new therapeutic opportunities.
Their work includes monitoring vital biological processes via enzymes altered to affix affinity labels and proximity tags, or via recombinant antibodies that selectively bind other proteins, disclosing their locations, co-factors and activities. Such engineering could eventually lead to the molecular-level diagnosis of disease, as well as more precise treatment targeting and rapid analysis of therapeutic efficacy.
More fundamentally, the design and systematic modification of model proteins allows scientists to experimentally analyze the factors that drive the folding of these polypeptides into their complex native conformations, as well as how the structures generate functions that underlie health and go awry in disease.
Cellular engineering, as practiced here, programs self-assembling tissues with specific cell-type compositions and three-dimensional structure to study how inter-cellular and tissue-to-cell signaling promote health and how perturbations in those processes give rise to disease.
Department scientists develop and apply an array of protein engineering approaches that include:
- Rational design: Precisely modifying protein structures to alter their functions as both enzymes and substrates
- Phage display: Using bacteriophages to generate billions of antibodies with different combinations of amino acids at antigen contact points, then testing for those that selectively bind a target protein
- De novo design: Using computational algorithms to select amino acid sequences that will fold into protein structures to achieve specific chemical and biological properties such as catalysis, binding, and transmembrane transport
- Monitoring enzyme activity and disease biomarkers
- Generating human proteome antibodies via phage display and directed evolution
- Globally analyzing and dissecting apoptosis
- Proximity tagging of protein-protein interactions
- Investigating cellular interactions in tissues
- Creating fluorescent probes targeting the genome and key bio-pathways
- De novo design of catalytic and membrane proteins
- Probing and modulating membrane proteins