Structural Biophysics and Protein Dynamics
Studies relating the structure and dynamics of biological macromolecules to function are a significant part of modern biophysics. This area of research spans a large range of topics and is well represented in the Biophysics Graduate Group at Berkeley. Current areas of research include how soluble proteins involved in signaling, regulation, and key enzymatic steps interact to carry out their function, and how membrane proteins change conformation to generate signals, pump ions and molecules or to affect membrane fusion. Studies focus on the structure of proteins, RNA and DNA with an emphasis on the rules and trajectories of protein folding, the rapid protein motions of channels, pumps and motors, photochemistry and phototransduction, the molecular interactions between proteins and DNA, the mechanism of RNA catalysis, and the design of ligands that bind to nucleic acids and act as specific regulators.
Insights into biomolecular behavior are leading to practical applications in biotechnology and bioengineering. The complementary skills of scientists in biology, physics, chemistry and engineering in approaching these areas of research enhances progress tremendously.
A major strength at Berkeley is the wide range of facilities and technologies available for the study of macromolecules. For X-ray diffraction studies, the Advanced Light Source (ALS) at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has stunning capabilities. Also housed here is one of the best cryo electron microscopes available for electron microscopy. Modern instruments for magnetic resonance spectroscopy (both NMR and EPR) can provide structural insights, and are also unparalleled for probing dynamics. Recent methods in mass spectrometry are also being applied at several of the outstanding on-campus facilities (which includes the national HHMI mass spectrometry laboratory). To resolve ultra-fast processes, optical, Raman, and fluorescence spectroscopies with femtosecond pulsed laser systems are used. Single molecules can now be observed or manipulated with atomic force microscopy, optical tweezers, fluorescence probes or single-channel electrical measurements. Theory and modeling are critical parts of testing the ideas generated by new experiments, and for understanding complex processes. Computer modeling of protein folding is providing insight into features which control folding pathways, as well as the roles of solvent interactions.
Other research areas:
Molecular Microscopy and Optical Probes
Cell Signaling and Cellular Physiology
Computational Biology and Genomics
Brain Imaging and Bioelectronics