Last Tuesday, the 4th of October, Professor Martin Caffrey of the University of Limerick visited Trinity to give a seminar on biological membanes, his recent work on membrane lipid behaviour and the crystallisation of membrane proteins.
His lab uses a variety of imaginatively re-designed equipment to extract and mix the membrane components that they analyse. They also have a specially built robot that dispenses exactly the right quantity of lipid (fat) and protein into each of the 96 wells on a sample plate in less than ten minutes! Two aims of his research that he spoke about are to compile a database of information about membrane lipids and to gather data about membrane protein structures.
Lipids behave extremely strangely in the biological membranes that surround and compartmentalise our cells. They exist in a ‘liquid crystal’ state that is between the behaviour of a liquid and a solid. Caffrey’s group studies different lipids at different pressures and compositions to build a database of information that will be used to better understand these critical biological molecules.
One of the best ways to get an idea of the function of a protein is to find its structure. But conventional methods run into difficulties with membrane proteins. The new crystallisation method that Caffrey’s group is using allows them to document structures of proteins that were not known before. This research goes towards a research initiative on the organism that causes tuberculosis.