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screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-11-59-13-amDr. Francisco Fernandez-Lima, a faculty from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and founding member of the Biomolecular Science Institute at Florida International University, was granted a five year “CAREER: Development of gas-phase, post-ionization structural tools for the study of DNA-protein complexes” educational and research award. The Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Program is a Foundation-wide activity that offers the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious awards in support of early-career faculty who have the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization.

With support from the Chemical Measurement and Imaging Program in the Division of Chemistry and from the Molecular Biophysics Cluster of the division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, Professor Francisco Fernandez-Lima and his group at Florida International University is developing new tools and integrating complementary gas-phase structural biology techniques to characterize the conformational dynamics, structural motifs and folding intermediates that drive DNA-protein interactions. The free energy landscape of biomolecules in solution presents specific challenges for standard structural biology, and not all systems are amenable to traditional approaches (e.g., NMR or X-ray crystallography). This has triggered the need to further develop and to integrate complementary structural biology tools to better characterize biomolecules and biomolecular complexes.

By integrating mass spectrometry (MS), trapped ion mobility spectrometry (TIMS), hydrogen/deuterium back-exchange (HDX) and ion spectroscopy techniques, Prof. Fernandez-Lima and his group are studying intrinsically disordered systems, with a focus on DNA-binding proteins and DNA-protein complexes. This new experimental platform has the potential to transform the way we interrogate biological molecules to one capable of providing detailed, useful structural information on co-existing states in the conformational ensemble (e.g., equilibrium and kinetic intermediates). Ongoing experiments will provide new structural information, permit mobility-selected conformation interrogation, enable the study of conformational changes from solution to the gas-phase, and provide information on the energy barriers for conformational rearrangement and their time scales. The research outcomes of this project will significantly impact our fundamental understanding of the structural motifs that drive the folding and unfolding of biomolecules and biomolecular complexes.

This project also supports the exposure of graduate, undergraduate, and high school minority students to the practical aspects of structural mass spectrometry via the educational program “FIUMASS: MS experience for All”. Partnering with local K-12 high school, neighboring community colleges and working synergistically with student training programs at FIU, FIUMASS is sure to enhance learning and exposure to the modern MS techniques and to recruit underrepresented minorities into STEM.

Congratulations Dr. Fernandez-Lima!