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The Erie Group

The Erie Group

Members of the Erie Group focus on using single molecule and biochemical methods to better understand the kinetics and thermodynamics of protein-nucleic acid interactions. Current single molecule techniques used in the lab include Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) and Total Internal Reflection Microscopy (TIRM) techniques such as Fluorescence Resonance Energy Transfer (FRET). A major focus of our lab is the characterization of both the static and the dynamic protein-nucleic acid interactions that govern the overall repair specificity of mismatched or damaged DNA in prokaryotic and eukaryotic organisms. A few questions we are addressing include the following: How is mismatch repair initiated on some mismatches but not others? What properties of a damaged DNA substrate initiate apoptosis over mismatch repair? What roles do the mismatch repair initiation proteins, MutS and MutL, play in that separation of pathways? What are the structures/conformations of the multi protein-DNA complexes that control DNA repair? We are also characterizing a host of other protein-DNA interactions involved in DNA repair. There are projects within the group that would appeal to most areas of interest. Our group is composed of students from a variety of backgrounds and departments including chemistry, materials science, physics, and biophysics.


The Gagné Group

The Gagné Group

The Gagné Lab is interested in the development of new synthetic methods for complex bond constructions. To mimic sterol biosynthesis, we have developed several "carbophilic" late metal catalysts (Pd, Pt, and Au) for alkene and allene activation, while in other projects we seek new catalysts for glycosidic C-O bond activation. The goal in this latter project is to use polysaccharides as renewable feedstocks for complex molecule synthesis. A third major thrust is in dynamic combinatorial chemistry (DCC), a dynamic templating strategy that selects for new receptors under competitive binding conditions. This strategy is additionally being used for new catalyst discovery.


Cahoon Receives Packard Fellowship

We congratulate Assistant Professor James Cahoon as being one of eighteen national recipients of a David and Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowship. James was elected as one of the nation's most innovative early-career scientists and engineers receiving a 2014 Packard Fellowships for Science and Engineering. Each Fellow will receive a grant of $875,000 over five years to pursue their research.

James Cahoon

"The Packard Fellowships are an investment in an elite group of scientists and engineers who have demonstrated vision for the future of their fields and for the betterment of our society," said Lynn Orr, Keleen and Carlton Beal Professor at Stanford University, and Chairman of the Packard Fellowships Advisory Panel. "Through the Fellowships program, we are able to provide these talented individuals with the tools and resources they need to take risks, explore new frontiers and follow uncharted paths."


DeSimone in all National Academies

Chancellor's Eminent Professor of Chemistry, Joseph DeSimone, has been elected to the Institute of Medicine, one of the highest honors in the fields of health and medicine a U. S. scientist can receive. His election to Institute of Medicine represents the third time he has been named a member of a U. S. National Academy. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 2005 and the National Academy of Sciences in 2012. Fewer than 20 people in history have achieved election to all three U. S. National Academies, and he is the first individual in the state of North Carolina to be named to all three U. S. National Academies.

Joseph DeSimone

"DeSimone is a renaissance scientist," said Chancellor Carol L. Folt. "He was the first to successfully adapt manufacturing techniques from the computer industry to make advances in medicine, including next-generation approaches to cancer treatment and diagnosis. He provides a beautiful example of how transcending disciplines can revolutionize science and open up entirely new fields of study. We are very proud of what Professor DeSimone and his students have accomplished. He is a gifted and talented teacher and amazing University citizen."


Nitric Oxide-Releasing Glucose Biosensors

In vivo glucose biosensors have the potential to greatly improve the way diabetics manage their disease. Unfortunately, such devices do not function as intended, that is, reliably, after implantation due to inflammation and encapsulation due to the "foreign body response.” The Schoenfisch Group has for the last decade researched the benefits of materials that release nitric oxide, NO, to mitigate the foreign body response. In an article published in Analytical Chemistry, they describe the analytical performance benefits of a NO-releasing glucose biosensor percutaneously implanted in a swine model.

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Needle-type glucose biosensors were modified with NO-releasing polyurethane coatings designed to release similar total amounts of NO for either rapid or slower durations, and remain functional as outer glucose sensor membranes. Relative to controls, NO-releasing sensors were characterized with improved numerical accuracy on days one and three.

The clinical accuracy and sensitivity of rapid NO-releasing sensors were superior to control and slower NO-releasing sensors at both one and three days after implantation. In contrast, the slower/extended NO-releasing sensors were characterized by shorter sensor lag times in response to intravenous glucose tolerance tests versus burst NO-releasing and control sensors. Collectively, these results highlight the great potential for NO release to enhance the analytical utility of in vivo glucose biosensors. Initial results also suggest that this analytical performance benefit is dependent on the NO-release duration.


Meyer Wins Samson Award

As announced by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on October 6th, Arey Distinguished Professor of Chemistry, Thomas Meyer, is one of two winners of the 2014 Eric and Sheila Samson Prime Minister's Prize for Innovation in Alternative Fuels for Transportation. Professor Meyer is recognized as a world leader in solar fuel research.

Professor Thomas Meyer

The $1 million prize is awarded for breakthrough work into converting solar energy into electricity capable of powering transportation. "We are making a major multi-year effort so that we will not be dependent on fluctuations in the price of oil," Netanyahu said. "This prize gives the researchers true appreciation for their efforts." The Eric and Sheila Samson Prize, totaling $1 million, is the world’s largest monetary prize awarded in the field of alternative fuels, and is granted to scientists who have made critical advancements."

Congratulations to Dr. Meyer on receiving such a prestigious international honor," said UNC Chancellor Carol L. Folt. "Dr. Meyer is a superb example of the kind of innovation we champion here at UNC, using research to solve the world's most pressing problems. By pairing a basic scientific knowledge of photosynthesis with the latest advances in nanotechnology, Dr. Meyer and his team are bringing the world closer than ever to making solar energy a practical, reliable power source."


SHAPE-MaP RNA Structure Analysis

Many central biological processes are mediated by complex RNA structures, but the higher-order interactions for most RNAs are unknown, which makes it difficult to understand how RNA structure governs function. As published in Nature Methods, a team of students in the Weeks lab have invented a new approach -- selective 2'-hydroxyl acylation analyzed by primer extension and mutational profiling (SHAPE-MaP) -- that makes possible de novo and large-scale identification of RNA functional motifs.

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SHAPE-MaP melds chemistry invented in the Weeks lab with readout by massively parallel sequencing to make it possible to detect structure-selective chemical reactions in RNA on genome-wide scales. SHAPE-MaP represents a "no compromises" approach for interrogating the structure of RNA, enables analysis of low-abundance RNAs, and is ultimately poised to democratize RNA-structure analysis.



Biological systems have the ability to program reversible shape changes in response to cues from their environment. While a variety of adaptive and stimuli-responsive materials like hydrogels, liquid crystalline elastomers, and shape memory materials have been developed, mimicking programmable behavior in a reversible way remains elusive.

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Work published in Macromolecules by the Sheiko and Ashby groups, in collaboration with the University of Connecticut, Brookhaven and Oak Ridge National Labs, has shown that semi-crystalline elastomers may undergo reversible switching between well-defined shapes without applying any external forces. This behavior stems from the correlated interplay between a crystalline scaffold and a network of chemical crosslinks, each capable of encoding a distinct shape. The universal mechanism of reversible shapeshifting affords interesting opportunities for minimally invasive surgery, shape programmable biomedical implants, surgical sealants, and hands-free packaging.



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."