COLLEGE PARK, Md. - The University of Maryland has received a $1.9 million grant from the National Science Foundation to acquire a superconducting 800 MHz Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) spectrometer that will help scientists and engineers to solve complex problems in biology and medicine. The instrument will be the highest field NMR spectrometer to be located on the College Park campus and will enable scientists to investigate the three-dimensional structure of biological molecules and study their interactions with a degree of resolution and sensitivity not previously possible.
Kwaku Dayie, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, is the principal investigator on the grant, and will utilize this technology to advance his research on the biophysics of RNAs (ribonucleic acids). RNAs are biological molecules that are critical to life, and that play a role in many diseases for which effective treatments are still sought.
"RNAs do a lot more in cells than we have given them credit for," explains Dayie, who is associated with the university's Center for Biomolecular Structure and Organization (CBSO). "They can speed up chemical reactions by up to 100 billion fold without the need of protein enzymes, and they can regulate gene expression just as proteins can. Being able to map out their 3D architecture using this high field NMR technology means we'll be able to see more clearly how we could target them for drug discovery and delivery."
Two other faculty members of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the CBSO, Professor David Fushman and Assistant Professor Vitali Tugarinov, and one in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Assistant Professor Ganesh Sriram, will be co-principal investigators. Both Fushman and Tugarinov are experts in the study of protein structure and dynamics using NMR methods, and they will now be able decipher interactions between important biological macromolecules that they could not study before with available technologies.
Sriram will use the NMR to advance research into metabolic engineering, the modification of organisms to improve specific cellular properties. He uses stable isotope labeling to quantify carbon traffic through cells and applies this information to develop metabolic engineering strategies.
"The new higher resolution 800 MHz NMR instrument will enable us to measure isotopes more accurately, and thereby accelerate our understanding of metabolic pathways," explains Sriram. "We use NMR technology to quantify metabolic pathways in plants or organisms that might be used to produce biofuels or pharmaceuticals."
The NMR instrument will strengthen the research programs of 15 scientific groups working in several departments at the University of Maryland in College Park - Chemistry and Biochemistry, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, and Biology - as well as in the new Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research (IBBR).
"We have an outstanding group of researchers with expertise in NMR spectroscopy at UM who are among the international leaders in this area," says Professor Michael Doyle, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. "This award will help to advance their discoveries in several biomedical research areas, and to assist others who will utilize the technology to advance their research programs."
In addition to the principal investigators, other key users of the 800 MHz NMR spectrometer will include Assistant Professors Herman Sintim and Nicole LaRonde LeBlanc, and Professors Jeff Davis, Lyle Isaacs, John Orban, and Lawrence Sita (all in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry), Professors Anne Simon and Jonathan Dinman (in the Department of Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics), and Shawn Abernathy from Howard University's Chemistry department.