The research in our group focuses on the structural biochemistry and biophysics of membrane proteins. Membrane proteins perform most of the important processes in all living cells. For example, respiration, photosynthesis, cell communication, cell import/export, cell growth and recognition are catalyzed and regulated by membrane proteins. These proteins do not act in an isolated way; they rather perform communication within the cell by binding and releasing of cofactors and soluble signal-transducing proteins. Membrane proteins are also key player in infectious diseases as they mediate entry of viral and bacterial pathogens into the host cell and also play an important role in the cell defense against the pathogens.
The main step for the elucidation of the complex in whole living cells is the understanding of the structure, dynamics and function of the membrane proteins that play the key role in these processes. Our research field is of a very interdisciplinary nature and includes biochemical investigations, molecular biology, spectroscopy, crystallization, X-ray structure analysis, as well as theoretical investigations. Petra Fromme's group is part of a large international collaboration who are pioneers the new field of serial femtosecond nanocrystallography using Free electron lasers, where structure determination is based on femtosecond X-ray diffraction from a stream of nanocrystals, which will allow the determination of molecular movies of biomolecules at work in the future.
The Fromme group has two major biological fields of interest: Photosynthesis and Infectious Diseases. Photosynthesis is the main process on earth converting light energy provided by the sun into chemical energy. It is the unique energy source for all higher life on earth and produces all the oxygen in the atmosphere. The work on Photosynthesis includes the investigation of the structure and function of the large membrane protein complexes involved in the primary processes of photosynthesis and the development of an artificial oxygen evolving complex in DNA nanocages, and is part of the ASU Center for Bio-Inspired Solar Fuel production. A special focus for our studies is the structure and function of the large bio-solar energy converters, Photosystem I, Photosystem II, and the ATP-Synthase, an enzyme that functions as a molecular motor. We also use time-resolved femtosecond nanocrystallography to determine a molecular movie of water splitting. Another exciting project deals with transport processes across membranes, with a special focus on transport into cell organelles.
The work on important viral, bacterial and human membrane proteins is the focus of the ASU Center for Membrane Proteins in Infectious Diseases led by Petra Fromme. The center involves a collaboration of 11 groups at ASU. We have selected 50 target proteins, which play important roles in the infection cycle. The work involves new method development for expression, purification, biophysical characterization, crystallization and structure determination of the membrane proteins.