Chemical biology; organic chemistry; enzymology of protein prenylation reactions and protein engineering based on adipocyte lipid binding protein.
Mark Distefano is exploring how proteins accelerate chemical reactions and how proteins recognize other molecules with high specificity. This information is useful for drug design and biotechnology applications.
Two key areas of study include the enzymology of protein prenylation reactions and protein engineering based on adipocyte lipid binding protein. Using a combination of synthetic organic chemistry in conjunction with a wide variety of biochemical, spectroscopic and computational modeling techniques, Distefano is studying problems at the interface of chemistry and biology.
Protein prenylation consists of the addition of C15 and C20 isoprenoid groups to proteins via the formation of thioether bonds. Since a large number of proteins are prenylated, and inhibition of prenylation can inhibit the growth of cancer cells, there is considerable interest in developing inhibitors of this protein modification.
Rubber biosynthesis is an example of an area Distefano has approached through protein engineering. Isolated from natural latex from a single plant species not grown in North America, rubber is used in the manufacture of tires as well as in the production of specialized products such as surgical gloves and angioplasty balloons. Using photolysis, Distefano has identified several proteins involved in natural rubber synthesis with the goal of cloning the genes responsible for rubber production in the rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensis. If this can be accomplished, it will set the stage for creating new rubber producing plants that grow in the United States or allow the up regulation of rubber production in indigenous plants that already produce rubber but at levels that are not commercially viable.
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