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Sunday, May 7 • 9:30am - 10:00am
3D Visualization of Biopolymer Energy Landscapes

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Protein and RNA molecules (biopolymers) are the machines of the cell and life would not be possible without them.  These molecules break down food so that it can be used to keep the cell alive, copy the DNA of the cell every time it divides and make up the pathways that regulate all cellular functions.  Each of the tens of thousands of protein and RNA molecules in human cells has a particular function, which is determined by its unique 3D shape (conformation).  Previous Nobel Prize-winning studies have established that this unique conformation is determined by the amino acid sequence of a protein and the nucleotide sequence of the RNA.  My research has focused on how these molecules fold to this unique shape and I will demonstrate a macroscopic model of such a folding reaction.

Energy landscape theory is one of the most useful conceptual breakthroughs in our understanding of how proteins and RNA fold. It is best represented as a 3D funnel with multiple local minima. 3D printing of such a representation allows the dynamic distribution of small spheres (representing individual molecules) on the landscape to demonstrate both the energy-based (i.e., Boltzmann) distribution of molecules and the rate and path by which they discover their equilibrium positions (i.e., kinetic mechanism of folding). I have constructed several such physical landscapes and will demonstrate their utility for teaching undergraduate, PhD and medical students during my presentation.  I will also use the demonstration to describe how sometimes proteins misfold, which can lead to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS and others.

avatar for Terrence Oas

Terrence Oas

Presenter, Duke University
Professor Oas is a Professor of Biochemistry and Professor of Chemistry at Duke University, where he has been on the faculty for 27 years. His research includes experimental studies of the thermodynamics and kinetics of protein and RNA folding reactions, the structure of flexible... Read More →

Sunday May 7, 2017 9:30am - 10:00am EDT
Meeting Room B