With this award, the Chemistry of Life Processes program is supporting the research of Professor Jianmin Gao of the Department of Chemistry at Boston College. Professor Gao will develop and test a novel class of unnatural amino acids that change their ionization states upon interacting with lipid membranes. These amino acids are designated as "Conditionally Charged Residues" (CCRs) as they are designed to be positively charged in aqueous solution, but neutral when placed in a nonpolar environment such as a lipid membrane. It is expected that such CCRs will have broad application in bioorganic and medicinal chemistry. In this project, the synthesized CCRs are to be incorporated into the well characterized channel forming peptide, gramicidin A, as a model system. Professor Gao will examine the structural determinants of peptides that enable their efficient folding into transmembrane channels.
The Broader Impacts of this project include the development of a set of widely applicable non-proteinogenic amino acids for use in chemical biology and their deployment toward advancing our understanding of peptide-membrane interactions. Of equal importance is the education and training of graduate and undergraduate students in interdisciplinary research. The training program includes an outreach component through the intern program that the PI has initiated with Roxbury Community College (RCC).