The focus of my current research is the discovery and characterization of new tools for the emerging field of optogenetics. In optogenetics, light-triggered molecules from the rhodopsin family are used as “light-switches” to interrogate or control cellular processes. Currently, the only two highly functional “on-off” switches used in the optogenetic manipulation of neurons and cardiomyocites are channelrhodopsin 2 (CrChR2) from the green algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, and halorhodpsin (HR) from H. salinarum. Of particular interest to me, is the use of new rhodopsins in optogenetic applications involving heart cells, ultimately designing light-triggered molecular defibrillators.
One system under investigation is the recently discovered sodium pumping rhodopsin (NaR) from the marine flavobacterium K. eikastus. This is the first sodium-specific light triggered pump currently known. We are utilizing a number of different spectroscopic techniques to probe the structural changes that take place upon light activation of NaR. We want to understand how the structure of NaR has evolved to perform its selective ion pumping mechanism. We are also applying different spectroscopic modalities to study other channelrhodopsins from Platymonas (PsChr), to understand the structural elements that impart its hyper-activity. Once we understand the structural constraints that define a good optogenetic tool, we can more easily screen natural systems or engineer new molecules de novo and expand the optogenetic tool set.
Other Interests: When not in the lab I am an avid guitar player and collector with a deep interest in the history of the blues and jazz. I have been featured in guitar periodicals and played several high profile gigs with local, regional, and international recording artists.
NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Postdoctoral Fellow - Rice University, Department of Biochemistry & Cell Biology, Mentor: Dr. Graham Palmer, 2009-2013
Postdoctoral Research Fellow - UTHSC, Internal Medicine Division of Hematology, Mentor: Dr. Richard Kulmacz, 2007-2009
Ph.D in Chemistry - University of South Florida, Mentors: Dr. Li-June Ming and Dr. Brian Livingston, 2002-2007
B.A. in Chemistry - University of South Florida, 1999-2002
Transmembrane Proteins, Transmembrane Ion/Charge Transport, Light Sensors, Optogenetics, Bioenergenetics, Protein Engineering, Catalytic Promiscuity, Evolutionary/Developmental Biology, Biomimetics, Oxidative Stress, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Electron Paramagnetic Resonance, Magnetic Circular Dichroism, UV-Vis Spectroscopy, Stopped-Flow Kinetics, Enzymology, Chemical Kinetics