Meet The Team

Roberto Chica

Director
Associate Professor
Dept. of Chemistry & Biomolecular
Sciences, University of Ottawa

Description:

The Chica Lab develops novel proteins with useful properties for their application in chemistry and biology. In particular, they develop new biocatalysts for asymmetric synthesis of unnatural amino acids as well as genetically-encoded biosensors based on fluorescent proteins for in vivo imaging applications. To achieve these goals, Chica’s group conceives and exploits cutting-edge computational protein design algorithms to help predict mutations that will lead to the desired protein property. They have successfully applied these methods to predict and design protein stability, specificity and dynamics, and are now focusing on the de novo design of allostery and enzymatic catalysis.

Keywords:

Computational protein design; biocatalysis; enzymes; biosensors; fluorescent proteins; protein dynamics


Andrew Woolley

Co-grantee
Full Professor
Dept. of Chemistry, University of Toronto

Description:

The Woolley group designs and characterizes light-switchable proteins. Research on light-controlled proteins provides fundamental knowledge about protein conformation, folding, and dynamics. It also leads to the development of powerful tools (often called optogenetic tools) for the analysis and engineering of complex biological systems. CREATE trainees in the Woolley group will learn how design, discover, express, characterize and use proteins that are controllable by light. These proteins find applications in areas ranging from neurobiology to the production of biofuels.

Keywords:

Optogenetics; phage display; NMR; protein design; chemical modification


Corrie daCosta

Co-grantee
Assistant Professor
Dept. of Chemistry & Biomolecular
Sciences, University of Ottawa

Description:

The daCosta lab seeks an atomic-level understanding of ligand-gated ion channel structure, function and mechanism, and to exploit ligand-gated ion channels as engineered molecular sensors. Employing an evolutionary biochemistry approach, they resurrect and study ancestral ion channels to trace their evolutionary history, and uncover the innovations in amino-acid sequence that led to current ion channel structural and functional diversity. In parallel, they engineer ligand-gated ion channel agonist specificity, with the aim of creating a new class of genetically encoded biological sensors.

Keywords:

Ligand-gated ion channel; ancestral protein reconstruction; evolutionary biochemistry; patch clamp electrophysiology


Elizabeth Meiering

Co-grantee
Full Professor
Dept. of Chemistry, University of Waterloo

Description:

Meiering’s group aims to obtain a quantitative, predictive understanding of the molecular determinants of protein folding, aggregation, function and design. They investigate proteins of fundamental biological, biotechnological and medical significance by expressing and purifying recombinant proteins and analyzing their properties using biochemical and biophysical techniques. Projects include the engineering of protein thermodynamic and kinetic stability, the study of folding and function of hisactophilin, and folding and aggregation of ALS-associated SOD1 mutants.

Keywords:

Protein folding; protein aggregation; protein function; protein dynamics; protein engineering and design

Email:

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Jean-François Couture

Co-grantee
Full Professor and Director of the Translation
Molecular Medicine Undergraduate Program
Dept. of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology, University of Ottawa

Description:

Couture’s group mainly focuses on the functional, biochemical and structural characterization of histone lysine methyltransferases. They couple mutational studies with X-ray crystallography to understand the link between methyltransferase structure and activity, and are now interested in optimizing methyltransferase enzymatic activity. The APRENTICE program will provide trainees with broad knowledge in protein engineering required to make important strides towards the engineering of improved plant methyltransferases to optimize flowering, plant growth and defence mechanisms.

Keywords:

X-Ray crystallography; epigenetics; protein engineering; structure-activity relationship studies

Jeffrey Keillor

Co-grantee
Full Professor and University Research Chair in Bioorganic Chemistry
Dept. of Chemistry & Biomolecular
Sciences, University of Ottawa

Description:

CREATE-supported students in the Keillor group will work on two different protein labelling projects that involve protein engineering and are highly relevant to the biotech industry. The first involves the development of protein labelling technology, in which a peptide tag sequence is designed for selective, efficient and bioorthogonal reaction with small molecule fluorogenic labelling agents. The second project involves the development of a peptide tag that can be site-specifically modified by an engineered enzyme that can be co-expressed in the target cell.

Keywords:

Protein labelling; protein engineering; transglutaminase; fluorogen; maleimide

Joelle Pelletier

Co-grantee
Full Professor
Dept. of Chemistry, Université de Montréal

Description:

The Pelletier group makes protein engineering more efficient to improve diagnostic tools, make chemical synthesis ‘greener’, and address antibiotic resistance, while gaining insights into natural and laboratory molecular evolution. They develop computational and experimental approaches to improve the design of ‘smart’ libraries of mutations focussed on the active-site area of enzymes, and experimentally validate the resulting variants. Through their work, they are learning general rules of protein engineering. To enable rapid progress, they have developed expert collaborations that provide hands-on training to HQP, diversifying expertise and broadening the group’s scientific culture.

Keywords:

Protein Engineering; biocatalysis; enzymology; structural biology; molecular modelling; protein dynamics


John Pezacki

Co-grantee
Full Professor
Dept. of Chemistry & Biomolecular
Sciences, University of Ottawa

Description:

The Pezacki lab develops molecular imaging tools and applications in the study of complex biological processes such as host-pathogen interactions. They develop chemical probes for protein labelling to interrogate protein activity, and use expanded genetic codes for site-specific incorporation of unnatural functionality into proteins. The Pezacki lab also engineers the RNA silencing suppressor protein p19 to create tools for studying non-coding RNAs and the RNAi pathway. These projects have involved monomerization of the dimeric p19 protein, creation of genetic fusions and optogenetic reporters, and use of bacteria with expanded genetic codes to site-specifically incorporate unnatural amino acids to probe binding and to create covalent bonds between protein and substrate.

Keywords:

Email:

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Natalie Goto

Co-grantee
Associate Professor
Dept. of Chemistry & Biomolecular
Sciences, University of Ottawa

Description:

The Goto Lab studies protein structure and dynamics by solution NMR, with a focus on proteins that act at the cell membrane. These include the rhomboid family of intramembrane proteases important for diverse biological functions, and the Min family of proteins that is required to ensure that bacterial cell division occurs at the correct site. APRENTICE trainees will work collaboratively in protein engineering projects where NMR analysis is required to determine structures and measure dynamics of engineered proteins, as has been done in collaborations with Chica, Pezacki and Keillor.

Keywords:

NMR; protein structure; protein dynamics; membrane proteins; intramembrane proteases

Nicolas Doucet

Co-grantee
Associate Professor
Institut National de la Recherche
Scientifique-Institut Armand-Frappier, Université du Québec

Description:

Prof. Doucet’s interdisciplinary research draws on the tools of directed evolution and protein NMR relaxation, merging these methodologies to demonstrate the powerful outcome of “flexibility-function” analyses in protein design. Using a number of different enzyme systems (RNases, xylanases, and β-lactamases), CREATE-supported trainees will explore the conservation of conformational dynamics among structural homologs, building chimeric hybrid systems to highlight and exploit evolutionary conservation of atomic motions in enzyme engineering. Doucet’s lab also translates findings to academic-industry partnerships in biotransformation and biosynthesis.

Keywords:

Protein dynamics; enzyme engineering; structural biology; molecular biology; biotechnology

Robert Campbell

Co-grantee
Full Professor
Dept. of Chemistry, University of Alberta

Description:

The neurobiological research community is rapidly moving towards a "neurophotonic" future in which genetic engineering and minimally invasive optical techniques fully replace traditional electrophysiological methods for activation and recording of neuronal activity. The Campbell group is leading such efforts by developing proteins that either fluoresce (reporters), or undergo a change in function (actuators), upon absorption of visible light. Trainees in the Campbell group use structure-guided protein engineering, directed evolution, live-cell imaging and fluorescence spectroscopy.

Keywords:

Fluorescent proteins; optogenetics; indicators; directed evolution; structure-guided design; library screening

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Interested in donating or becoming a partner with the CREATE team to help to empower trainees with outstanding research skills in the field of protein engineering? Please contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for more information.