Proteins are polymers of amino acids that are responsible for the biological functions within our cells, regulating from gene expression to metabolism to cell morphology to muscle contraction. The key aspect of proteins is their fold, a structure defined by the position of their amino acids in the three-dimensional space, which dictates their function. Each protein fold has been sculpted by evolution to be suited for specific tasks and encoded within the amino acid sequence, whereas evolutionarily related proteins from different species often share the same fold and similar functions, constituting protein families.
Understanding how proteins work requires addressing several aspects: i) how proteins reach their functional structure – the protein folding problem; ii) the molecular details of the structure of a protein; iii) the evolution towards novel functions within protein families. To address these questions, we employ an experimental and computational research approach that combines biophysics, biochemistry, bioinformatics and molecular dynamics in order to tackle defining questions of protein structure, function and evolution.
Our current efforts are focused on metamorphic proteins that can switch between different structures and enable diverse functional roles or trigger pathological responses, such as bacterial virulence and prion diseases. The outcome of our research will enable several biomedical and bioengineering applications, such as the development of novel antibacterials and treatments against prion diseases, protein engineering of new functions within proteins and the design of metamorphic biosensors for biotechnological applications.