Professor Brandt is a chemist who rejoices particularly in the splendor of biological molecules. His graduate work involved incorporating unnatural amino acids into human ion channels expressed in the eggs of carnivorous frogs. After post-doctoral research on the X-ray crystallography of various proteins, he currently has a two-fold focus. One project in his lab addresses the biochemistry of proteins involved in the virulence mechanism of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum. The other seeks to synthesize photosensitive molecules with the goal of controlling, via a pulse of light, specific biochemical pathways inside living cells.
Reed College, BA
My lab is generally interested in the atomic and molecular scale of natural processes. Specifically, we're undertaking two projects. The first has to do with understanding the virulence mechanisms of the malaria parasite P. falciparum. In the second project, we'll try to develop chemical tools for using light to control biochemical processes as they occur in cells in real time.
1. Molecular mechanisms of virulence in P. falciparum
Globally, most malaria infections are caused by P. vivax, but most deaths result from infection by P. falciparum. Malaria parasites remain within a patient's circulating red blood cells for up to 48 hours, undergoing several cycles of asexual reproduction. The virulence of P. falciparum is thought to be related to its ability to alter the red blood cell surface during this process. These infected erythrocytes adhere to the walls of blood vessels, potentially leading to life-threatening symptoms. We'd like to know more about how the parasite remodels the surface of its host cell. A very large number of P. falciparum proteins are exported into the red blood cell. One family comprises 20 Ser/Thr protein kinases, enzymes that can modify other proteins in a cell. Our goal is to study the biochemistry of the members of this family.
2. Controlling biochemical processes with light
Modern biochemistry is increasingly focused on trying to do experiments in a cell rather than a test tube. I'm interested in developing chemical tools that can ultimately be used inside cells. These will be small molecules, like pharmaceuticals, that are themselves dynamic. One way to exert control over a molecule inside a cell is by using light. Although some wavelengths of light can penetrate surprisingly far into an organism, this technique is designed to work in experimental cell cultures, which are essentially transparent. Our goal is to design, synthesize and test photoactive molecules. We'll start out with compounds based on known inhibitors of a well-studied protein kinase called Src. One version of a dynamic Src inhibitor will acquire the ability to block the enzyme only after being irradiated with light. Another version will block the enzyme, but then disintegrate when hit by photons. Using what we learn from these proof-of-principle experiments, we hope to create molecules that can be used to turn biochemical pathways on or off in cultured cells.
CHM111: General Chemistry
CHM471: Advanced Biochemistry