U-M symposium: Protein engineering and biological design

September 10, 2019
Contact: Emily Kagey ekagey@umich.edu

Icons of DNA and molecular structures.EVENT ANNOUNCEMENT

DATE: 8:45 a.m.-4:15 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2019

EVENT: Saltiel Life Sciences Symposium: “Protein Engineering and Biological Design.” Free and open to the public.

PLACE: Forum Hall, Palmer Commons, University of Michigan,100 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor.

MEDIA: Journalists are welcome. RSVP to Emily Kagey, 734-615-6228 or ekagey@umich.edu.

DETAILS: Inside every living cell, proteins are busy protecting the body against foreign invaders, catalyzing chemical reactions, transmitting signals across cells and organs to coordinate essential biological processes, and basically holding the cell together.

For decades, scientists have probed the power of proteins to determine how their functions could be optimized for new uses—from treating human diseases to improving energy usage and environmental sustainability—through biological design and protein engineering.

“There’s been a lot of work to bring protein engineering into reality in drug discovery, biocatalysis and many other areas,” said David Sherman, professor at the U-M Life Sciences Institute, College of Pharmacy and Medical School. “And now we’re starting to see the clear fruits of that labor. We’re really in a particularly productive era in protein engineering and design with amazing promise for the future.”

That’s why the topic of this year’s Saltiel Life Sciences Symposium is so timely, Sherman said. The symposium will bring pioneers in the field to U-M to discuss the new technologies and applications that are advancing the role of protein engineering across scientific disciplines.

“The range of speakers we have this year highlights the enormous impact of protein engineering in increasing our understanding of proteins’ myriad essential functions, as well as in translational research to promote drug discovery and development,” said Sherman, who chaired this year’s symposium planning committee.

This year’s speakers include:

  • Donald Hilvert, professor of chemistry and applied biosciences at ETH Zürich, whose lab is developing strategies to engineer enzymes with customized properties, including extending enzymes’ abilities to catalyze reactions beyond their conventional biological restraints.
  • Amy Keating, professor of biology and biological engineering at MIT, who uses her background in chemistry and understanding to improve understanding of how proteins interact to determine how those interactions can be manipulated and to design new proteins with novel interaction properties.
  • Dan Tawfik, professor of biomolecular sciences at the Weizmann Institute of Science, whose lab has developed experimental systems to reproduce real-time protein evolution in the lab. Tawfik’s research has shed light on how the very first proteins emerged and evolved, and is leading to the development of tailor-made enzymes with important potential uses.
  • Alice Ting, professor of genetics, biology and chemistry at Stanford University, whose lab develops new molecular technologies to study proteins and signaling within living cells and organisms. The FLARE technique, developed with then-postdoc and now LSI faculty member Wenjing Wang, for example, enables researchers to capture a clearer picture of how large groups of neurons within a mouse’s brain responds during a particular activity.
  • James Wells, professor of pharmaceutical chemistry at the University of California, San Francisco, who pioneered the development of new technologies for engineering proteins to target catalytic, allosteric and protein-protein interaction sites for therapeutic purposes. His lab at UCSF is now using protein and antibody engineering to understand and disrupt signaling processes associated with human disease.
  • Huimin Zhao, professor of chemistry, biochemistry, biophysics and bioengineering at the University of Illinois, whose graduate research contributed to the directed evolution methods that won the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Zhao’s current research program focuses on the development and applications of synthetic biology tools to address challenges in health, energy and sustainability.

SPONSOR: U-M Life Sciences Institute

INFORMATION: Saltiel Life Sciences Symposium