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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.

One of the nation's leading public technological universities, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) is a top-tier research university that prepares students to become leaders in the technology-dependent economy of the 21st century. NJIT's multidisciplinary curriculum and computing-intensive approach to education provide technological proficiency, business acumen and leadership skills. With an enrollment of more than 10,000 graduate and undergraduate students, NJIT offers small-campus intimacy with the resources of a major public research university. NJIT is a global leader in such fields as solar research, nanotechnology, resilient design, tissue engineering, and cyber-security, in addition to others. NJIT ranks 5th among U.S. polytechnic universities in research expenditures, topping $110 million, and is among the top 1 percent of public colleges and universities in return on educational investment, according to PayScale.com.