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Contact Information: Tanya Klein Public Relations 973-596-3433

NJIT Associate Professor Receives Today NIH Grant To Study Membrane Proteins

NJIT Associate Professor Edgardo Farinas has been awarded today a three-year $340,000 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant to investigate spores as a protein display platform for the directed evolution of membrane proteins.  

“My long-term objective is to engineer proteins designed to order.  My more specific aim is to stabilize G protein-coupled receptors which are membrane proteins and are involved in almost every physiological process,” said Farinas. 

These proteins transmit most cellular responses across cell membranes through a vast array of extracellular stimuli, which include small molecules, light, proteins, peptides, hormones, and ions. 

 Irregular control of these proteins can lead to pathological conditions.  As a result, they are major drug targets, and make up greater than 50 percent of the current human therapeutic market with annual revenue in excess of $50 billion.

Determining the three-dimensional structure is necessary to investigate the molecular details of activation/deactivation. However, there are few structures available because these proteins are difficult to crystallize.  For instance, they suffer stability problems due to flexibility. Hence, a robust and efficient protein engineering system is needed to optimize these proteins for structural determination.

            Farinas’ research will optimize these proteins using a random approach that mimics natural evolution in a test tube.  The method is called directed or laboratory evolution. The unstable protein is the parent and a library of these protein offsprings will be created.  The library will be screened for a desired fitness-stability, in this case.  Once a winner is identified, it becomes the parent for another round of laboratory evolution. This is done in iterate cycles until the desired fitness is achieved.

In 2008, Farinas received a National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER award for his project "New Tools for High-Throughput Screening of Protein Libraries: Engineering Metalloproteins Displayed on Bacillus Subtilis Spores." The prestigious career award recognizes teacher-scholars most likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century.  In 2010, he was awarded patent 7691616 B2 for his work entitled:  “Cytochrome P450 Oxygenases.” 

His most recent publications include “Directed evolution of CotA laccase for increased substrate specificity using Bacillus subtilis spores,” Protein, Engineering, Design and Selection (PEDS) (Elsevier 2010) http://peds.oxfordjournals.org/content/23/8/679.short and “Laboratory Evolution of Laccase for Substrate Specificity,” Journal of Molecular Catalysis B Enzymatic, Elsevier, 2010 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S138111770900280X  He holds a doctorate from the University of California, Santa Cruz and a bachelor’s degree from Loyola University of Chicago.

NJIT, New Jersey's science and technology university, enrolls approximately 10,000 students pursuing bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in 120 programs. The university consists of six colleges: Newark College of Engineering, College of Architecture and Design, College of Science and Liberal Arts, School of Management, College of Computing Sciences and Albert Dorman Honors College. U.S. News & World Report's 2012 Annual Guide to America's Best Colleges ranked NJIT in the top tier of national research universities. NJIT is internationally recognized for being at the edge in knowledge in architecture, applied mathematics, wireless communications and networking, solar physics, advanced engineered particulate materials, nanotechnology, neural engineering and e-learning. Many courses and certificate programs, as well as graduate degrees, are available online through the Division of Continuing Professional Education.