Biological membranes differentiate our cells from the extracellular environment and micro-organisms that cause disease. Essential to the function of these bio-membranes are the protein molecules embedded within them. My research uses X-ray crystallography and Cryo-Electron Microscopy to visualise these membrane proteins in near-atomic detail to understand how they function in the context of health and disease. For example, how does a resistance transporter protein transport particular drugs selectively? How does a receptor recognise a specific molecule and turn this into a signal affecting cell behaviour? Visualising the structure of these proteins in complex with the molecules they interact with is often a necessary first step in understanding these phenomena for developing treatments and technologies that can benefit society.
I have recently become increasingly interested in using synthetic biology to engineer the membrane proteins within yeast for a particular purpose, including the creation of living bio-sensors for disease diagnosis, displaying a synthetic library of "nanobodies" on their surface and modifying the secretory pathway for high-yield production of valuable proteins.