What’s new in membrane transport proteins

Gateway to life

All living beings are  distinct entities. What makes them distinct are the lipid membranes – tiny bubbles of grease within which the mysteries of life occur. The membranes, like the walls of a medieval city, protect life within from the world without. And as in an ancient city, there are gates and sentinels that permit and control the import and export of goods and the flow of information. These are the channels and transporters that carefully orchestrate what, when and how much enters and leaves the confines of the cells.

The knowledge that such molecules exist dates back more than 60 years, and the functional studies of them constitute the lion’s share of nearly a century of biophysical research. Yet during the past decade, a revolution has occurred in the extent to which we understand their mechanisms and the kinds of question we aspire to answer.

Much of that success is the result of a seemingly mundane achievement – the development of techniques to purify and study these proteins in isolation, allowing us to barrage them with biophysical methods, some drawn from existing arsenals, others developed specifically for this class of molecules.

In two sessions of this 2015 ASBMB annual meeting theme, we will showcase the successes of X-ray crystallography and nuclear magnetic resonance in revealing the molecular architectures and the mechanics of channels and transporters.

In the third session, we will focus on experimental and computational approaches that transcend static structural pictures to learn more about the dynamics of transporters, in which perpetual conformational changes are key to function.

Finally, in the fourth session, we will hear about novel functional properties of known transport proteins and the newly discovered molecular identities behind the well-known cellular-transport phenomena.

Olga Boudker
Emad Tajkhorshid
Organizers: Olga Boudker, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Emad Tajkhorshid, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign