Michael Smith trainee award furthers protein research

June 29, 2006, volume 36, no. 5
By Diane Luckow

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How are proteins, such as toxins, secreted from bacteria?

That's the question that post-doctoral fellow David Oliver will try to answer with funding from a prestigious, three-year, Michael Smith post-doctoral research trainee award for his innovative research into the structure and function of proteins.

Oliver works in molecular biology and biochemistry professor Mark Paetzel's x-ray crystallography lab, where they produce protein crystals and then expose them to x-rays. Their goal is to solve the protein's three-dimensional structure at the atomic level.

“We want to understand how these proteins function so that we can understand how to design drugs to combat different diseases,” explains Oliver, who joined the lab in April 2005 after earning his PhD at UBC.

“My project specifically looks at a group of proteins that form a channel in the membrane of bacteria. They serve as a conduit for other proteins, such as toxins, to move through and onto the cell surface. In some cases, the exported proteins allow the bacteria to cause disease.”

 If he and his lab mates can discover how the channel works, they're hopeful that they can then discover how to block its function.

Oliver says he came to SFU because Paetzel's lab is one of only a few in the world using x-ray crystallography to study this protein-conducting channel. He says the department of molecular biology and biochemistry's strong group of investigators was also an attraction.

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