My biological physics research is mainly into the crystallisation of proteins, and into the dynamics of proteins, DNA etc inside living cells. Most protein structures are determined from X-ray diffraction studies, which requires crystals of the proteins. In the past I have looked at the crystallisation of proteins that exist in (water) solution, but as of 2017 I am a member of the EU PhD-student training network RAMP: Rationalising Membrane Protein crystallisation. Membrane proteins are proteins that are embedded in the cell’s membranes.
RAMP: Modelling membrane protein crystallisation
I am one of nine academics at nine EU universities in the RAtionalising Membrane Protein crystallisation (RAMP) network. This is an Innovative Training Network (ITN) funded by the EU under a Marie Skłodowska Curie Action (MSCA). It runs from March 2017 to February 2021, and is coordinated from the University of Grenoble-Alpes (France) by Dr Monika Spano.
Twelve PhD students, including one working with me at Surrey (Virginia Apostolopoulou), start October 2017. The network aims to develop new approaches to crystallising membrane proteins, approaches that rely on less trial and error than current approaches. See the RAMP website for further details.
The beautiful crystal above is of a membrane protein, and was grown in the MemGold II screen by Stefanie Kobus of the Heinrich Heine University in Dusseldorf. Screens are sets of solution conditions (typically ones that have worked for other proteins in the past) that are used to try and grow protein crystals. MemGold II is sold by the RAMP partner Molecular Dimensions.
Modelling diffusion inside cells of the protein whose absence causes Duchenne muscular dystrophy
I have collaborated with muscle cell biologists on modelling the dynamics of the protein Dystrophin inside live muscle cells. Dystrophin is a medically important protein, the absence of this protein causes the genetic disease Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. This work was published in eLife in October 2015. This site hosts the app used there. There is a news release on this work.
Liquid droplets phase separation inside cells
The complex viscous energy-consuming fluid inside cells is very far from uniform, as this schematic attempts to show. The P granules (purple) and TRIM5alpha (orange) are both examples of liquid-droplet-like structures inside cells. In other words it looks like (functional) liquid/liquid phase separation occurs inside cells.