Biochemical & Biotechnology

Biochemical and Biotechnology Research

Biochemists work at the interface between chemistry and biology to understand life at the molecular level.  They use this knowledge to develop new biotechnology that increases our quality of life and is essential to medical care. 

Graduates go on to work in pharmaceutical, biotechnology research, and medical device industries such as Bristol Meyers Squibb, Merck, Pfizer and Roche Diagnostics.

Biochemical and Biotechnology Research Projects

Biochemical and biotechnology research includes fundamental studies onto molecular forces that control biologically important reactions including protein folding and the underlying chemistry responsible for vision.  This basic understanding feeds studies on how macromolecules including enzymes and receptors function and impact disease states in humans as well as the development of new biotechnology including the development of manmade catalysts to drive intercellular synthesis, fluorescence-based molecular biosensors and sensor systems that mimic mammalian olfaction (our sense of smell).

Natural Product Synthesis:  Natural products are secondary metabolites (small organic molecules) produced in organisms and have long been the source of the majority of drugs and drug candidates. Indeed, 78% of the antibacterial compounds and 74% of anticancer agents available today are either natural products or their chemical derivatives. The complete chemical synthesis of natural products is the first and key step in such drug discovery endeavors that aim to treat currently incurable diseases.  Dr. Takenaka's group is currently working toward the complete chemical synthesis of the alkaloid Acutumine isolated from the moonseed Sinomenium acutum which has been shown as a potential treatment for T-cell malignancies

Enzymes and receptors: Dr. Rokach's main research interest is the use of bioorganic and synthetic chemistry to advance the understanding of biochemical and biological systems. The total syntheses of biologically important molecules are performed, and from these molecules, synthetic probes are designed to identify and isolate enzymes and receptors that have escaped isolation by the most commonly used techniques.  Ongoing projects include the synthesis of isoprostanes and the development of methods to measure them in vivo as an index of free radical generation in disease states--novel approach to degenerative diseases (e.g., cardiovascular, Alzheimer, etc).

Molecular forces: Dr. Akhremitchev’s research interests are in experimental biophysical chemistry and physical chemistry.  His research program aims at uncovering nanoscale details of intermolecular interactions and structural dynamics that control many important biological processes including protein aggregation, receptor-ligand binding and formation of supramolecular biological structures. Experimental approaches utilize high spatial and force resolution of scanning probe techniques to investigate molecular structures at the nanoscale and at a single-molecule level.

Intracellular organic synthesis: Biotechnology research in the Dr. Knight's group is centered around the interface of inorganic chemistry and other scientific sub-disciplines including catalysis, organic synthesis, medicinal chemistry and molecular biology.  Ongoing projects include the design of new metal-based artificial endonucleases for use as molecular biology tools, antiviral and antibacterial drugs based on functionalized organometallics compounds as bone-seeking agents and new paradigms for achieving intracellular organic synthesis using water-stable encapsulated transition metal catalysts.

The chemistry of vision:  The high efficiency of vision derives from the fact that a single photon of light is sufficient in activating a thousand G-proteins which in turn results in the hydrolysis of approximately 100,000 cGMP to GMP ultimately leading to a neuronal signal. Dr. Nesnas' group studies these proteins through the design and synthesis of various visual chromophores aiming to unravel this intriguing design and eventually lead to the design of similar systems geared to current needs including therapeutic treatments.

Fluorescence-based sensors: The development of molecular sensors is of great interest world-wide. Dr. Brown and Dr. Baum collaborate in this area to show how fundamental science can broaden into applied work. In particular they have designed fluorescent compunds that can be quenched through the disruption of intramolecular hydrogen bonds.  In so doing, they are creating artifical receptors whose emission of light can reveal the presensce of biologically imporant molecules.

Artificial olfaction: The invention of the CCD chip present in digital cameras and smart phones has revolutionized the interface between technology and its environment. By pixilating optical images of its surroundings, devices can use sophisticated imaging processing and pattern recognition algorithms to perform increasingly sophisticated tasks associated with visual perception. The creation of a chemically diverse sensor array chip that mimics the olfactory system could provide the next revolution in sensory input for technology. In collaboration with groups in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Dr. Freund’s group is working on CMOS circuitry design and new methods for creating large numbers of chemically diverse polymer sensing materials on the chips to significantly expand the ways in which technology interacts and functions.

Focus Areas