Our research focuses on physical mechanism in infectious disease processes, using biophysical experiments together with computational models to analyze mechanistic complexity. Progress in preventing and treating infectious disease provided some of the great public health advances of the 20th century; maintaining these gains in the face of newly emerging diseases and drug resistance will require new insights into mechanisms of infection and how they may be thwarted. Since the complex biomolecular reactions involved are difficult to probe directly via experiments alone, we combine multiple experimental modalities, including single-virus fluorescence imaging, and integrate them with molecular simulation using large-scale data analysis. We study both enveloped viral entry and bacterial drug resistance.
Protein-membrane interactions in viral entry typify a grand challenge in biophysics: how do molecular assemblies control spatial organization in membranes and thence physiological function. The dynamic nature of these assemblies challenges traditional high-resolution structural approaches, while the length scales and sensitivity to perturbation complicate many optical approaches. Heterogeneous membrane assemblies must be studied in both model systems and physiological context to understand the fundamental mechanisms involved and how physiological environments affect these sensitive processes. We use simulations as a model system where all components can be precisely defined and link them to multimodal biophysical experiments to achieve an integrated understanding of physical mechanisms that control viral spatial organization and how they affect viral fusion kinetics. Current work in the laboratory integrates cryo-EM, novel image analysis techniques, molecular dynamics simulations, and deep-learning models. We hope to learn how viruses interact with target membranes to gain entry and how changes to virus or host can affect entry mechanisms. This work will bridge the gap between angstrom scale and microscale, helping solve important mechanistic questions in infection and creating a general approach using microscopy and simulations together to probe this challenging spatiotemporal regime.
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