The Chemistry of Life Processes Program supports Professor John C. Conboy at the University of Utah whose research will explore and understand the complex interplay between the movement of lipid species across the cellular membrane and the establishment of lipid compositional asymmetry. The connection between lipid compositional asymmetry and flip-flop in planar supported lipid bilayers will be explored using a novel application of sum-frequency vibrational spectroscopy (SFVS) developed by the PI to selectively probe the asymmetry in a planar-supported lipid bilayer (PSLB). This new surface analytical method allows for the direct detection of lipid flip-flop without the need for a fluorescent or spin-labeled lipid probe, which can alter the measured translocation rates. The goal of this research is to use this surface analytical tool to address some of the central issues concerning the transbilayer movement and the establishment of lipid asymmetry in bilayer systems. In addition, the coupling of lipid flip-flop energetics to the establishment of lipid asymmetry will also be explored. These studies are aimed at providing physical insight into the mechanism of lipid compositional asymmetry.
With the support of the Chemistry of Life Processes Program in the Chemistry Division at the National Science Foundation, Professor Conboy will perform research that has far-reaching implications in molecular and cellular biology and will provide a foundation for interpreting the influence of small molecules such as cholesterol and the influence of transmembrane peptides on lipid flip-flop and distributions in living cells. In addition to the studies outlined above, which will provide a solid foundation for the investigation of transbilayer movement of phospholipids across the membrane, studies could be extended to examine the exchange of fatty acids, steroids, hormones and other small molecules, all of which dramatically modulate the physical properties of lipid membrane. The goal of the education plan is to incorporate the concepts of bioanalytical chemistry into the graduate and undergraduate analytical curriculum. At the graduate level, the continued enhancement of the core analytical curriculum will be achieved by the offering of bioanalytical chemistry, a course that the PI has developed. The course is designed to utilize the most recent analytical techniques used in the biological sciences and draws heavily from the literature, exposing students to the latest advancements in the field. At the undergraduate level, the introduction of bioanalytical principles and techniques in the undergraduate instrumental analysis laboratory will be introduced. This will not only give students exposure to bioanalytical techniques, but will also entail the use of problem-solving based exercises. Several undergraduates will be involved in ongoing research in the laboratory of Professor Conboy, in order to foster a growing interest in biophysical/bioanalytical chemistry.