Postdoc wins Tabor award
for lipid membrane research

Published January 01 2018

Itay Budin is a Miller Institute junior fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, and works at the Joint BioEnergy Institute. courtesy of Itay Budin

Lipid membranes surround and protect each of our cells. They serve as a first line of defense, allow for intracellular signaling and keep subcellular compartments separate. The lipid composition must therefore be diverse and distinctive enough to keep a cell running smoothly. Figuring out which lipids are needed where and when can be challenging, however. Itay Budin, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, studies lipid properties and why certain ones belong in specific cell membranes. For his research, Budin received a 2017 Journal of Biological Chemistry/Herbert Tabor Young Investigator Award.

Budin investigates how lipid composition affects membrane properties and the consequences of altering particular lipids in model organisms. Lipids make up cellular and subcellular membranes and help maintain integrity and compartmentalization. However, manipulation of these lipids to understand their roles has been done primarily in vitro, and tools to recapitulate findings within living organisms are difficult to develop. Budin uses metabolic engineering to explore lipid composition and functionality. He explained that he does this by altering the genes that give rise to particular lipids. He is then able to “rewire” these pathways within the organism to understand which lipids are necessary for a particular membrane and why. Budin and colleagues have learned that a cell’s membrane can act as an environmental sensor, and a particular set of proteins then responds to maintain homeostasis. This work was published in May 2017 in the journal Metabolic Engineering.

JBC Associate Editor Dennis Voelker presented the award to Budin in August at the 2017 Gordon Research Conference on Molecular and Cell Biology of Lipids. Receiving the award was a “great honor and real thrill,” Budin said, and receiving it from Voelker, a lipid biologist, reinforced the importance of his work. The award committee thought Budin’s work was instrumental in “assigning a crucial mechanistic role for unsaturated lipids in serving as molecular signals that liberate transcription factors from the endoplasmic reticulum in response to a variety of stimuli,” they wrote with input from Voelker.

Budin earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry and physical biology from Harvard University in the laboratory of Jack W. Szostak investigating the changes in lipid composition throughout evolution. He then came to the University of California, Berkeley, on a Miller Institute Junior Fellowship. He works with Jay Keasling at the Joint BioEnergy Institute, a research center in Berkeley focused on synthetic biology and metabolic engineering.

The Tabor award is changing

The selection process for the Journal of Biological Chemistry/Herb Tabor Young Investigator Award will change in 2018. A panel of JBC associate editors will select a handful of first authors on JBC papers for the award. The winners will be invited to give short talks at the annual meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. To recommend a first author for the award, contact JBC Associate Editor George DeMartino.
Dawn Hayward Dawn Hayward is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.