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Biology Professor receives grant from National Science Foundation

Posted Jul. 31, 2014

 Biology Professor receives National Science Foundation grant to study membranes.  Dr. Edgar E. Kooijman recently received a NSF grant for $324,000.   Worldwide, crops are affected by water scarcity and salinity of the soil which results in a loss of yield and a reduction in the quality of the crops produced. Up unto now it has been difficult to breed crops that are tolerant to drought via conventional methods. New methods to target increased crop tolerance are thus needed. This work will target a specific component of the biological membrane of plant cells. Biological membranes are crucial for life as they form a barrier to protect cells from the environment. Since plants are sessile organisms this protective function is critical for survival. Plants have thus evolved intricate ways to cope with environmental stress, such as pathogen attack, drought, and salt stress. A key component of this response to stress is that plants make a membrane molecule called DGPP. The goal of this work is to unravel the function of this molecule through diverse biophysical and biochemical approaches. Graduate and undergraduate students will work together with international leaders in the field of plant stress. This work is expected to yield novel insights in the process of drought tolerance in plants and may lead to novel ways in which crops can be grown in challenging environments.
With this award, the Chemistry of Life Processes Program in the Chemistry Division is funding Dr. Kooijman to unravel the function of diacylglycerolpyrophosphate (DGPP) in the stress response of plants via the characterization of the physicochemical properties and protein-lipid interactions of DGPP. Ionization properties of DGPP in complex model membranes and modulation of membrane curvature by DGPP will be determined by diverse biophysical methods including, but not limited to solid state NMR spectroscopy, x-ray diffraction, and DSC. Novel protein binding partners will be characterized via affinity chromatography using DGPP functionalized beads, and protein-lipid interaction will be characterized via liposome binding, SPR and ITC. The function of lipid binding by protein partners will be explored. This work is expected to yield novel insights in drought stress tolerance, including the function of signaling proteins. As such, this project holds a promise for a new set of tools and intellectual property rights (IPR).