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Dr. Michael Nash awarded

Munich, April 15, 2015

Michael Nash, a group leader at the Chair for Applied Physics, Biophysics, and Molecular Materials at Ludwig-Maximilians-University and an Extraordinary Member of the Munich Center for Nanoscience, is among 10 young investigator teams worldwide to be awarded a 2015 Young Investigator Grant from the Human Frontier Science Program to better understand dynamics of living organisms.

The 2015 competition involved a year-long selection process that began with more than 1011 letters of intent and nearly 80 full applications. Nash and collaborator Prof. Cheemeng Tan (UC Davis- Biomedical Engineering) will receive funding of $250,000 per year for the three-year project, which integrates synthetic biology, microfluidics, and single-molecule imaging to study cellulosome assembly.

Cellulosomes are hierarchically organized protein networks used by anaerobic bacteria to digest cellulosic biomass. These protein networks comprise large scaffold proteins onto which catalytic domains dock. Many of the receptor-ligand interactions within cellulosomes have similar affinities, and many catalytic domains bind to the same scaffold sites. It is currently unclear how cells modulate the assembly of cellulosomes and enrich particular compositions of enzymes onto the scaffolds. To resolve these issues, studies on cellulosome assembly require nanoscale characterization methods.

“We are very excited to apply quantitative tools from engineering and biophysics to address shortcomings in our understanding of multivalent cellulosome assembly. Our plan involves developing synthetic gene circuits to mimic cellular processes, and tracking assembly at the single-molecule level,” Nash said.

Nash and Tan will approach this problem by combining principles from synthetic biology, dynamic network modeling, and single-molecule imaging. Their results will establish a foundation for studying protein assembly dynamics of native cellulosome-producing bacteria. Furthermore, the results will unravel general principles of how genetic networks modulate the assembly of protein nanostructures. The researchers believe that this in turn, could have a fundamental impact on bio-energy and synthetic biology research.