Probe of Hidden Dynamics of Molecular Biology
Chemical Perturbation Spectroscopy
- Aaron Dinner and Norbert Scherer are collaborating with UChicago colleagues Rustem Ismagilov and Louis Philipson to elucidate the molecular dynamics underlying insulin secretion in pancreatic beta cells. Their work is supported by a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation. “A lot of the fun of this kind of project is that people who are so different in the way they look at science come together,” Scherer said. “It certainly changes everybody’s thinking.” (Lloyd DeGrane)
Funded by a US-$1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation, University of Chicago (USA) scientists are aiming to develop a systematic method for determining how biological processes emerge from molecular interactions. The method may permit them to "rewire" the regulatory circuitry of insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells, which play a major role in type-2 diabetes. "Despite the amount of study directed at diabetes, there's really very little understanding of the collective mechanisms that govern or regulate insulin secretion", said project director Aaron Dinner, Associate Professor in Chemistry.
A second goal is the control of cell behavior and function more generally, which may ultimately culminate in other applications, including the bioremediation of environmental problems. Collaborating with Dinner on the project are Louis Philipson, PhD'82, MD '86, Professor in Medicine and Director of the University of Chicago Kovler Diabetes Center; and chemistry professors Rustem Ismagilov and Norbert Scherer, SB'82. The collaborators have worked together previously in various pairs. Philipson and Scherer worked to pioneer a microscopy method for imaging activity inside beta cells that led to insulin secretion under certain conditions. Ismagilov and Philipson collaborated on a means of efficiently measuring and analyzing beta-cell secretions - and Dinner and Scherer have analyzed the dynamics of an oddly behaving RNA molecule. The chemical pulses they had introduced into the molecule's watery environment were the driving force of the dynamic oscillations they observed. In their next step, they applied the process to a bacterium, coupling cycles inside the cell that would ordinarily operate on different time scales. The scientists then analyzed the bacterium's response to the chemical pulses for insights into its internal properties. The similar use of optical, magnetic and spectroscopic techniques is a standard means of probing molecular dynamics. Based on their RNA research, Scherer and Dinner realized that a chemical version of the technique might provide a whole new way of studying cellular dynamics. They call their new technique "chemical perturbation spectroscopy."