News & Highlights

Research Highlights

Diagram of the experimental setup (not to scale): Photoactivation of a single molecule of bR. Probing Proton Pumping: New Findings on Protein Folding in bacteriorhodopsin (bR)

When it comes to drug development, membrane proteins play a crucial role, with about 50% of drugs targeting these molecules. Understanding the function of these membrane proteins, which connect to the membranes of cells, is important for designing the next line of powerful drugs. To do this, scientists study model proteins, such as bacteriorhodopsin (bR), which, when triggered by light, pump protons across the membrane of cells. 

While bR has been studied for half a century, physicists have recently developed techniques to observe its folding mechanisms and energetics in the native environment of the cell’s lipid bilayer membrane. In a new study published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), JILA and NIST Fellow Thomas Perkins and his team advanced these methods by combining atomic force microscopy (AFM), a conventional nanoscience measurement tool, with precisely timed light triggers to study the functionality of the protein function in real-time. 

Model of the type three secretion system in Salmonella Bacteria The Forces involved in Folding Proteins

In a new paper, JILA physicist Thomas Perkins collaborated with CU Biochemistry Prof. Marcello Sousa to dissect the mechanisms of how certain bacteria become more virulent. The research brings together the Perkins lab expertise in single-molecule studies and the Sousa lab expertise in the type III secretion system, a key component of Salmonella bacteria. 

AFM tip unfolding protein membranes Grabbing Proteins by the Tail

"Unraveling" cell membrane proteins could help us understand how to build better drugs and treatments for disease.


JILA's custom logo commemorating its 60th anniversary Celebrating 60 Years of JILA

This year, JILA celebrates its 60th anniversary. Officially established on April 13, 1962, as a joint institution between the University of Colorado Boulder and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), JILA has become a world leader in physics research. Its rich history includes three Nobel laureates, groundbreaking work in laser development, atomic clocks, underlying dedication to precision measurement, and even competitive sports leagues. The process of creating this science goliath was not always straightforward and took the dedication and hard work of many individuals.

Photo of JILA Fellows Graeme Smith and THomas Perkins JILA Fellows Thomas Perkins and Graeme Smith win the 2021 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor Award

JILA Fellow Thomas Perkins has been awarded the 2021 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor Award. This award recognizes mentors who have gone above and beyond to support their postdocs. Perkins was nominated by postdoc David Jacobson, who praised Perkins' effort to help Jacobson apply and receive the prestigious NIH K99 “Pathway to Independence” Award. 

JILA Fellow Graeme Smith also won the 2021 Outstanding Postdoc Mentor Award, being nominated by CU Boulder postdoc Vikesh Siddhu and former CU Boulder postdoc, Felix Leditzky. Leditzky said Smith “played an integral part in guiding me through the process and helping me achieve this career goal. I aim to pay forward the trust and support that I received from him.”

Photo of David Jacobson David Jacobson is awarded the 2021 NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award

Post-Doctoral student David Jacobson wins the prestigious K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institute of Health (NIH). 

Lab Updates