The Lockett Group uses a multidisciplinary approach, combining aspects of analytical chemistry, materials science, biochemistry, molecular biology, and biomedical engineering to develop new analytical tools and in vitro assays to predict and quantify molecular interactions occurring in a cell or within a community of cells.
We are particularly interested in developing new technologies to: i) fabricate arrays of biomolecules in which we could screen drug metabolism in a high-throughput manner; ii) study the response of enzymes and cells to environmental stresses in tissue-like constructs that mimic in vivo conditions. We focus keenly on analytical tools that are amenable to high-throughput screening, are easily assembled or setup, and provide quantitative data.
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Protein quinary interactions organize the cellular interior and its metabolism. Although the interactions stabilizing secondary, tertiary, and quaternary protein structure are well defined, details about the protein–matrix contacts that compose quinary structure remain elusive. This gap exists because proteins function in the crowded cellular environment, but are traditionally studied in simple buffered solutions.
Researchers in the Pielak Group use NMR-detected H/D exchange to quantify quinary interactions between the B1 domain of protein G and the cytosol of Escherichia coli. In their work, published in PNAS, the group demonstrates that a surface mutation in this protein is 10-fold more destabilizing in cells than in buffer, a surprising result that firmly establishes the significance of quinary interactions. Remarkably, the energy involved in these interactions can be as large as the energies that stabilize specific protein complexes. These results will drive the critical task of implementing quinary structure into models for understanding the proteome.
Over the past decade, thermoplastics have been used as alternative substrates to glass and Si for microfluidic devices because of the diverse and robust fabrication protocols available for thermoplastics that can generate high production rates of the desired structures at low cost and with high replication fidelity, the extensive array of physiochemical properties they possess, and the simple surface activation strategies that can be employed to tune their surface chemistry appropriate for the intended application. While the advantages of polymer microfluidics are currently being realized, the evolution of thermoplastic-based nanofluidic devices is fraught with challenges. One challenge is assembly of the device, which consists of sealing a cover plate to the patterned fluidic substrate.
Typically, channel collapse or substrate dissolution occurs during assembly, making the device inoperable resulting in low process yield rates. Now, in an article published in Lab on a Chip as a "Hot Article," researchers in the Soper Group report a low temperature hybrid assembly approach for the generation of functional thermoplastic nanofluidic devices with high process yield rates, >90%, and with a short total assembly time of only sixteen minutes. The functionality of the assembled devices was demonstrated by studying the stretching and translocation dynamics of dsDNA in the enclosed thermoplastic nanofluidic channels.
The phenomenon of ion pairing in aqueous solutions is of widespread importance in chemistry and physics, and charge transfer between the ions is fundamental to understanding the behavior of aqueous ionic solutions. At the same time, it is of significant challenge to describe the charge transfer behavior using popular density functional theory, DFT, calculations in practice because of approximated exchange-correlation effects of electrons.
In work published as a Frontiers Article and also as the cover article in Chemical Physics Letter, the group of Professor Yosuke Kanai shows how advanced quantum Monte Carlo, QMC, calculation is used to accurately quantify the charge transfer behavior in the NaCl dimer. Accurate electron density is obtained from the so-called reptation Monte Carlo approach, and influence of fermion nodes of the many-body wavefunction on the charge transfer behavior was discussed in detail. It is anticipated that the QMC approach will be of great importance for investigating a wide range of the charge transfer phenomena for which present-day DFT calculations are not reliable.
A great friend of the Department, William "Bill" Rand, passed away on January 26th.
Bill was a contributor to our chemistry department for several decades; many of you will recognize the Emmett Gladstone Rand scholarship presented at our graduation ceremony each year in memory of Bill’s father. The first recipient of this medical school scholarship? Holden Thorp! Of course Bill was a member of our Chemistry Advisory Board since day one, too, and his sense of humor and warmth were a welcome addition to any gathering.
One of thousands applicants, Adrienne Snyder, a graduate student in the Brustad Group, was selected as one of six national winner of a Thermo Scientific Pierce Scholarship. She was selected based on her essay about Engineered Transaminases. Congratulations, Adrienne!
Nancy Allbritton, the Paul Debreczeny Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the UNC/NC State joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, has been named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors. The honor is awarded to academic inventors who have a prolific spirit of innovation in creating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on quality of life, economic development and the welfare of society. Allbritton was also recently elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, AAAS.
The innovators elected as NAI fellows are named inventors on U.S. patents and were nominated by their peers for outstanding contributions to innovation in areas such as patents and licensing, innovative discovery and technology, significant impact on society, and support and enhancement of innovation.
At the Department of Chemistry, we feel strongly that diversity is crucial to our pursuit of academic excellence, and we are deeply committed to creating a diverse and inclusive community. We support UNC's policy, which states that "the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is committed to equality of opportunity and pledges that it will not practice or permit discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, gender, national origin, age, religion, creed, disability, veteran's status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression."