Dr. E. James Petersson, an organic and biological chemist from the University of Pennsylvania has been doing research on protein folding to discover how it moves and what shapes it takes in relation to diseases like Parkinson’s. As he explained at the first Natural Science and Math Colloquium of the semester, which took place on Wednesday, Sep. 12 at 4:40 pm in Schaefer Hall 106, “the shape of the proteins governs function” and when proteins misfold you get negative results.
Through PowerPoint slides, Dr. Petersson explained why the shape and motion of proteins is important, about getting structural information when probes attach to proteins, and that he uses fluorescence techniques in his research.
In CGI movies, motion probes are used to capture the precise movements of the actors. Dr. Petersson is using this exact technique but with extremely small probes that will track what shapes the protein folds into and the distance between proteins. Fluorescence was used to help determine the distance between proteins in the folding process. In order to continue experimenting, Dr. Petersson wanted to apply his research to larger proteins, so his lab began to create their own amino acids to make larger proteins; otherwise, they would have to buy them. By applying his research to diseases like Prion disease (mad cow) and Parkinson’s, perhaps people can understand how proteins misfold and what causes it.
Most of the students who attended the lecture were likely chemistry or biology students, but Dr. Petersson spoke candidly so those who hadn’t taken biology or chemistry classes could understand the general idea. His lecture was received in a respectful manner and given undivided attention.