Charles B. Harris, Chair
Biology in the Department
Department of Chemistry has two new faculty members
arriving this summer: Christopher Chang and Richmond Sarpong.
I feel their hirings to be quite a coup for the department, as both are
highly distinguished scientists with exciting research programs. Chang
is an inorganic chemist studying the functions of metal ions and redox
chemistry in neuroscience. Sarpong is working on the total synthesis of
biologically active and architecturally complex natural products. We are
busily renovating laboratory space for both of them, using a combination
of start-up funds and private support.
Charles Shank is stepping down as the director of LBNL and will
come to campus with his primary appointment in the chemistry department.
(Shank also has appointments in physics and in electrical engineering
and computer sciences.) Welcome to the department, Chuck!
growth of Chemical Biology
We are wrapping up the third year of our Chemical Biology Graduate Program,
which supports graduate students working at the interface of chemistry
and biology (http://cbgp.cchem.berkeley.edu/).
The program recently received an NIH training grant and a gift from Chiron.
We are also awarding our first bachelor’s degrees in Chemical Biology
this semester, with over 100 current undergraduates choosing it as their
major. As this field is a primary focus of many in the department, I would
like to tell you about some of our exciting research findings. This is
a case of too many stories for too little space, so I will touch on more
of this in the next issue of the NewsJournal.
Stfo, a virulence factor for tuberculosis,
was discovered in Carolyn Bertozzi’s lab.
a combination of chemical and biological approaches, researchers in Carolyn
Bertozzi’s laboratory have recently elucidated the biosynthetic pathway
for the most abundant virulence factor in M. tuberculosis, the
bacterial pathogen that causes TB. The virulence factor is a molecule
termed sulfolipid-1, and in the critical first step in its synthetic pathway
sulfates are added to the core sugar moieties of SL-1 by an enzyme that
Bertozzi’s lab discovered and named “Stf0.” Researchers in the Bertozzi
lab have determined the three-dimensional structure of Stf0 and are using
this information in the design of drugs that block the enzyme and, thus,
the production of SL-1. This work may lead to new avenues for anti-TB
the immune synapse with nanotechnology
There are not enough drugs to treat autoimmune diseases, and most current
therapies address the symptoms rather than the cause because the immune
system is tremendously complex. Jay Groves and his colleagues recently
discovered that T-cells perform their surveillance by forming a specialized
junction with the target cell. In this junction, proteins and signaling
molecules become arranged in spatial patterns, and these patterns seem
to convey information. Groves and his colleagues are creating hybrid junctions
between living cells and nanofabricated chip substrates, which allow them
to impose spatial constraints on the motion of signaling molecules in
living T-cells and probe the role of geometrical patterns in the function
of the immune system.
Over the last couple of years, Dirk Trauner has succeeded in rendering
certain potassium channels sensitive to light, allowing him and his group
to create nerve cells (neurons) that change their firing-pattern upon
irradiation. Recently, a small organic molecule that functions like a
light-switch was covalently mounted onto the extracellular surface of
a potassium channel fine-tuned by genetic engineering. In its extended
conformation, the molecule blocks the pore of the channel. Upon irradiation
with UV light, it changes geometrically, restoring the conductance of
the channel. The channel can be expressed in cells and switched repeatedly
between its blocked and open state. Even more significantly, hippocampal
neurons expressing the chemically modified channels can be silenced upon
irradiation. This system could ultimately lead to the development of an
system to facilitate faculty awards
Thanks to the hard work of Professor Robert Bergman and staff members
Christine Rutkowski, and John Ingham, the department now
has a streamlined way to nominate our faculty members for major awards
and track the process internally. The new database-driven system is web-accessible,
allowing nominators to work from afar and is useful as our faculty are
always on the go.
Congratulations to our award-garnering faculty.
Alivisatos was elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the
AAAS (more info)
Bertozzi is the 2004 recipient of the Iota Sigma Pi Agnes Fay Morgan
Bustamante was awarded the Alexander Hollaender Award in Biophysics
from the NAS
Trauner is an Alfred P. Sloan Fellow this year and also received
the Amgen Young Investigator Award
Yang received a NSF CAREER Award, a prestigious award for young
Yang won the MRS Outstanding Young Investigator Award
won the Amgen Faculty Award
Frantisek Svec, a senior researcher with Jean Fréchet, was
elected President of the California Separation Science Society