09/19/17 -9:45 AM to 11:00 AM
Department Seminar: Professor William C.K. Pomerantz
Professor Pomerantz is an assistant professor and McKnight Land-Grant Professor in the Department of Chemistry.
Researchers in Pomerantz' lab seek to develop new chemical probe molecules for protein-protein interactions (PPIs) by developing new chemistry and structural biology approaches. Broadly speaking, his research seeks to understand the molecular level details of PPIs. At the same time, his group's researchers use chemistry to design synthetic molecules that disrupt the dysregulated forms of PPI communication to further understand the underlying biology. They apply NMR, and in future experiments MRI, to visualize biomolecular interactions, and use small molecules that they synthesize in the laboratory to perturb the protein function. Researchers use the element fluorine to facilitate their research goals due to its unique properties. Observing the interactions between two proteins is a challenging task in the complex environment of a living cell. To do so, the researchers “tag” a protein so that it is visible amidst many other biomolecular background signals in a way that does not perturb the natural function of the protein. The fluorine atom is absent from the biological recipes for making all three essential biomolecules (proteins, sugars, and nucleic acids) but is similar in size to the hydrogen atom. Pomerantz' lab overrides the strict rules of nature governing protein synthesis and can tag our proteins with a variety of fluorine atoms replacing hydrogen. This provides us with a specific probe to study our proteins without background signals. Fluorine is an extremely sensitive probe, making it easy to observe as well as highly responsive to changes in its environment. Because they can understand the surroundings of each fluorine tag, the researchers can define not only if a molecule binds to a protein, but where, and can rapidly quantify the strength of the interaction in cells and even whole organisms using 19F MRI. This specificity allows the researchers to determine how the molecule in question disrupts the communication between the important protein partners and informs our use of chemistry to design new molecules. One particular area of biology they anticipate their methods will impact is the field of Epigenetics.