Structure and Dynamics of Intrinsically Disordered Proteins

chemistry model

Wenwei Zheng presents this March 15, 2017, session as part of the Science and Mathematics Colloquium Series at Arizona State University. Zheng is a postdoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Chemical Physics of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of NIH (the National Institutes of Health).

The importance of disorder in protein structure and function is becoming increasingly evident. However, interpretation of experimental results becomes more challenging due to the averaging of observables over the very broad distribution of disordered protein conformations.

For example, the two most commonly used experimental methods, Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) and small-angle X-ray scattering (SAXS), have yielded qualitatively different results for the effect of chemical denaturants on unfolded proteins. Molecular simulations can potentially fill this gap, but have not been applicable to disordered proteins due to shortcomings of the energy function used.

"We have recently improved all-atom simulation models to work with both folded and intrinsically disordered proteins," wrote Zheng. "We then applied the model to resolving the decades-old controversy in the field, between the FRET and SAXS experiments on the unfolded proteins. We showed how the discrepancy arose from the way in which the experiments were analyzed and how that can be avoided. I will present my recent progress on the formation of membrane-less organelles through liquid-liquid phase separation of intrinsically disordered proteins, and my future plans for this work."

Zheng is currently working on modeling intrinsically disordered proteins, including force field development, experimental data interpretation and liquid droplet formation.  

Before entering the intrinsically disordered protein field, he focused on understanding protein folding mechanisms by developing advanced sampling and reaction coordinate methods.  

To date, Zheng has published 21 papers and he  has recently been awarded the Nancy Nossal fellowship award from NIDDK for excellence in postdoctoral research. He earned a bachelor's degree in physics from Fudan University and a dactorate in chemistry from Rice University.

Ryan Penton
Science and Mathematics, College of Integrative Sciences and Arts
Cooley Ballroom C, Student Union, Polytechnic campus