January 2010

Keller Garners Avanti Young Investigator Award


KellerSarah L. Keller, a professor of chemistry and adjunct professor of physics at the University of Washington, has been named the winner of the 2010 Avanti Young Investigator Award in Lipid Research for her innovative and cutting-edge studies on membrane lipids.

As part of this award, established by American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology’s Lipid Research Division, Keller will present a lecture, titled “Dynamic Domains in Lipid Membranes near a Miscibility Critical Point,” at 11:45 a.m. Monday, April 26, at the 2010 annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

Keller’s interdisciplinary research has been instrumental in revealing how lipid composition affects the physical parameters of cell membranes and how that can lead to changes in membrane protein activity and aggregation. Some of her early studies directly inspired models of protein aggregation within membranes and provided an experimental basis for the theory of membrane lateral pressure.

Keller’s interest in this field began with her graduate education at Princeton University, where she studied the interactions between ion channels and lipid membranes.  Working with Sol M. Gruner, Keller showed that the conductance state of alamethicin channels changes dramatically when the channels are present in dioleoylphosphatidylethanolamine compared with dioleoylphosphatidylcholine membranes. Those results had far-reaching implications, for at that time there was little evidence for the idea that lipid composition could affect membrane protein activity in the absence of charged lipids, a large change in membrane thickness, a transition to the gel state or direct binding between lipids and proteins.

Since arriving at the University of Washington in 2000, after postdoctoral positions at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Stanford University, Keller has combined her in-depth knowledge of chemistry and physics to tackle even more daring and ambitious projects related to membrane lipids.

In just a few years, Keller already has provided numerous insights into the formation and diffusion of lipid domains and how lipid composition can alter the activities of lipid domains and membrane proteins in both an intra- and inter-leaflet manner.



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