Nature uses a limited set of twenty amino acids to synthesize proteins. In recent years it has become possible to site-specifically incorporate designer amino acids with tailored chemical properties into proteins in living cells by reprogramming the genetic code. Together with developments in designing chemical reactions that are applicable to and selective within living systems, these strategies have begun to have a direct impact on studying biological processes.
In this talk I will present our lab’s efforts to expand the genetic code and to endow proteins with novel chemical moieties within their physiological environment. By site-specifically incorporating artificial designer amino acids into proteins, we have developed tools to image and probe proteins, to study protein-protein interactions and to re-engineer and manipulate molecular networks and biological pathways in living cells.
We envision that these approaches and technologies will enable the study of biological processes that are difficult or impossible to address by more classical methods.
Kathrin Lang studied Chemistry at the University of Innsbruck, Austria where she obtained a PhD in 2008 working on chemically modified RNA to study ribosome catalysis and riboswitch folding. After postdoctoral research in the group of Venki Ramakrishnan on ribosome crystallography and in the lab of Jason Chin on synthetic biology at the MRC-LMB in Cambridge, UK, she was appointed in 2014 as a Rudolf Mössbauer Tenure Track Professor at the Technical University of Munich, Germany, where she was tenured and promoted to permanent W3 Professor for Synthetic Biochemistry in 2020. Since April 2021 she is Full Professor of Chemical Biology at the ETH Zürich, Switzerland.
Her general research interests lie in the interdisciplinary area between Chemistry and Biology, applying concepts from Organic Chemistry to develop new tools to study and control biological systems. Her group is especially active in enabling and advancing approaches to expand the genetic code and in developing new in vivo chemistries that are amenable to physiological conditions, a combination that is ideally suited to address unmet challenges in studying and manipulating biological processes with a new level of spatial, temporal and molecular precision.