This year, we are pleased to welcome a variety of exciting and engaging keynote speakers from all around the world. We can all look forward to amazing talks from:

Julius Vancso U of Twente Yann Chemla U of Illinois @ U-C
Brian Kuhlman UNC @ Chapel Hill Roman Melnyk U of Toronto
Manu Prakash Stanford Jhih-Wei Chu N. Chiao Tung U
Jeff Tabor Rice

University of Twente, Netherlands

Julius Vancso

The group Materials Science and Technology of Polymers (MTP), chaired by Professor G. Julius Vancso, studies a range of topics, which revolve around macromolecular nanotechnology and materials chemistry of nanostructured (macro)molecular materials. MTP's mission is to establish approaches, devise and construct tools, and build materials platforms that enable studies of macromolecular structure, behavior and function from the nanometer length scale, bottom up, in a direct one-to-one control of the molecular objects. This knowledge is utilized to obtain advanced functional macromolecular materials and devices with enhanced or novel properties and functions for targeted applications.

Vancso Lab Homepage

Yann Chemla

University of Illinois, at Urbana-Champaign

The cell is a factory of complex molecular structures that carry out specialized mechanical tasks and that behave remarkably like machines. Molecular motors, as they are called, are involved in such diverse processes as replicating the genome or transporting cargo across the cell, typically moving in discrete steps along a track - actin, microtubules, or DNA itself - converting chemical energy into mechanical work. A broad area of interest in my laboratory will be understanding the mechanism by which these molecular machines operate, and specifically, the process of mechano-chemical conversion.

Biophysical techniques that can detect such processes at the level of a single molecule are extremely powerful, since they are not subject to the averaging artifacts of traditional bulk biochemical methods. Optical traps, or "optical tweezers," which utilize the force generated by focused laser light to manipulate microscopic objects, have been used extensively to measure the movements and forces exerted by individual molecular motors.

Recently, advances to this technique have made it possible to resolve motions on the scale of a single base pair of DNA, or only 3.4A (see for example, Moffitt et al., PNAS, 1756). These high-resolution optical trapping techniques have the potential to reveal, for the first time, the stepwise motions of a host of molecular motors that translocate along or interact with nucleic acids and proteins. Access to this length scale should lead to a more detailed and refined understanding of many fundamental processes.

Chemla Lab Homepage

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Brian Kuhlman

Computational Design of Protein Interactions and Switches

The molecular modeling program Rosetta has been used to design protein-protein interactions and protein switches that respond to light.

Interface design. Multi-state design simulations, that incorporate explicit positive and negative design, were used to generate antibody heavy and light chains with orthogonal Fab interfaces. Parental monoclonal antibodies incorporating these interfaces, when simultaneously coexpressed, assemble into bispecific IgG with the desired heavy chain-light chain pairing. Because the can bind two separate antigens simultaneously, these bispecific antibodies can be used to block or inhibit multiple pathways simultaneously, and they can be used to recruit different cell types to each other.

Photoactivatable protein switches. The engineered photoactivatable proteins incorporate the naturally occurring LOV domain from plants, and show increased binding affinity for specified binding partners in the light. These binding events have been used to control gene transcription and protein localization with blue light.

Kuhlman Lab Homepage

Roman Melnyk

University of Toronto

Pathogenic bacteria are exquisitely adapted microbes that use sophisticated biochemical strategies and factors to interfere with the normal function of the host cell. Virulence determinants refer to those factors (i.e., bacterial toxins, cell damaging proteins, adhesins etc.), which actively cause damage to the host. The symptoms of many bacterial diseases can be directly attributed to the actions of virulence factors, especially protein toxins, which are among the most deadly natural poisons known. The most potent bacterial toxins act by delivering a cytotoxic enzymatic moiety (A-domain) into host cells through pores created by an accompanying channel-forming domain (B-domain). Examples of toxins that employ the "A-B strategy" of cell intoxication include cholera, botulinum, diphtheria, anthrax and the disease-causing toxins secreted by C.difficile. Since bacterial toxins are often solely responsible for the symptoms of many diseases, blocking their action on mammalian cells represents an attractive approach to potentially treat the symptoms of these devastating bacterial diseases. Using chemical biology and targeted drug discovery approaches combined with molecular biophysics a nd structural analysis we seek to identify and validate host & toxin targets and discover small molecule hits for further exploration and development. In addition, owing to the unique ability of these toxins to specifically and efficiently deliver their toxic enzymes into cells, an often insurmountable task for many protein-based drugs, we aim to develop toxin-delivery platforms to shuttle otherwise non-cell penetrant therapeutics into cells.

Melnyk faculty page

Stanford University

Manu Prakash

We are a curiosity driven research group working in the field of physical biology. Our approach brings together experimental and theoretical techniques from soft-condensed matter physics, fluid dynamics, theory of computation and unconventional micro and nano-fabrication to open problems in biology: from organismal to cellular and molecular scale. We design and build precision instrumentation including droplet microfluidic tools to probe and perturb biological machines and their synthetic analogues. Along the way, we invent novel technologies in global health context with clinical applications in extreme resource poor settings.

Prakash Lab Homepage

Jhih-Wei Chu

National Chiao Tung University

Our research develops computational methods and applies them to simulate biosystems. The goal is to elucidate how biological functions emerge from the behaviors of building blocks and their spatial and temporal arrangement. To pursue this endeavor, we take a multiscale approach to integrate modeling with experinemt and bioinfomatics. We also aim to apply this unique methodology to trace the origin of diseases, discover new therapeutics, and develop bio-inspired engineering systems.

Chu Lab Homepage

Rice University

Jeff Tabor

Learn by building

We study biology by building living models in the laboratory. Specifically we construct synthetic gene networks to reprogram how cells interact with one another. The tractability of synthetic systems allows us to gain a more thorough understanding of complex phenomena such as pattern formation and social interactions.

Tabor Lab Homepage