Several faculty members have research programs at the interface of engineering and biology. Areas of research include protein engineering to manipulate surface displayed proteins for elucidating molecular recognition in the immune response; experimental engineering of photosynthetic systems to biologically produce hydrogen; and experimental and computational analysis of cell biological phenomena.
Current Faculty Research
Lipid droplet formation in eukaryotes
Dr. Paul Dalhaimer
Lipid droplets (“obesity organelles”) store energy and precursors for phospholipids in the form of neutral lipids. When cellular fatty acids are in excess, droplets form from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER), although it is not known how this occurs. Excessive numbers and sizes of lipid droplets in cells called adipocytes can lead to obesity, which is so widespread in the United States that even in the state with the leanest population, two-fifths of the residents are obese. However, excessive neutral lipids in certain organisms, such as lower eukaryotes and certain prokaryotes, can be helpful to society—they are intriguing sources for biofuels. Therefore, the understanding of the cellular mechanisms of lipid droplet formation and breakdown is of utmost importance to the United States for the health, sustainability, and energy independence of its population. At UT, we are determining the mechanisms of droplet formation from the ER using quantitative tools that combine the engineering techniques of live-cell particle tracking with the spectacular genetic capabilities of the fission yeast, S. pombe.