Andrew HausrathAssistant Professor
Building: BSW 342
Education and Appointments
Geometry and mechanics of higher-order biological structure
My research goal is to understand the organizing principles governing the action and form of macromolecular complexes. Most biological processes employ proteins as the active elements. However, the majority of processes are accomplished by large assemblies comprised of many different proteins, rather than by single proteins acting in isolation. While a great deal of detail is known about the structure of many individual proteins which comprise the constituent parts of these complexes, in only a few cases is there a comparable level of understanding of the action of the complex as a whole. In essence, the field currently has a detailed catalog of the parts from which such biological machines are constructed, but largely lacks an understanding of how these parts are put together, and how the properties of individual parts contribute to the function of the machine as a whole.
My lab employs a combination of theoretical and experimental approaches to address this gap in our understanding. On the theoretical side, a central theme has been the application of differential geometry to address such questions in structural biology. This mathematical discipline can be thought of as a precise language for the description of abstract shapes and forms, and it has proved to be a very versatile formalism for the analysis of the complex three-dimensional forms of proteins and their complexes. Using this formalism we develop theoretical models which can then be tested in the laboratory, and which prompt experiments needed to further develop the models. On the experimental side, we study the structures of proteins and complexes using X-ray crystallography, microscopy, and biophysical techniques. Proteins of certain classes are heavily represented as components of complexes. These include repeat proteins, coiled-coils, and other symmetric folds. The modular nature of these proteins may facilitate their use within complexes, and also simplifies their mathematical representation. Hence these are of particular interest to us. Knowledge of the structures and properties of the proteins which function within higher-order complexes then stimulates development of improved models and theory about how such complexes carry out their functions in the cell.
Systems of current interest include the ATP synthase, the signaling hormone adiponectin, and the higher-order organization of chromatin in the nucleus.