Understanding the cell membrane, one molecule at a time.
Our group builds artificial mimics of cell membranes; both to improve our understanding of membrane biology, and to engineer new devices inspired by biology. Our approach is to dismantle the membrane into its component parts, and then to rebuild it from scratch in order to understand it. By contacting water droplets immersed in a solution of lipids in oil we have developed droplet interface bilayers as a platform with unique advantages to help us achieve these goals.
To study a cell membrane at the level of its individual components needs new methods for optical imaging capable of resolving these components. For example, by attaching a fluorescent tag to a membrane protein, we are able to see the fluorescence from a single molecule and observe sub-populations and kinetic intermediates that would be undetectable in an ensemble measurement.
We have taken these tools and applied them to understand the mechanism of action of specific membrane proteins. We study how ion channel conformational changes are coupled to ionic current, and how large macromolecular protein complexes assemble on the membrane.