Dora Tang: “Understanding cellular functions is essentially a highly complex chemistry problem. How biomolecules interact, how they are interconverted and how they move is best described in thermodynamic and kinetic terms. Recent advances in chemical and synthetic biology have enabled us to do chemistry in living cells and recreate entire cellular processes in the test tube. Together with biological and biophysical researchers we are pushing the boundaries of new experimental approaches in order to understand which molecular components and processes are crucial for cellular life and the organization of tissues.”


Chemistry underpins all of biology, therefore a molecular understanding of biological processes is crucial for deepening our understanding of how life works.  For example, how does the lipid membrane regulate protein activity and signaling events? How do cells use molecules to regulate their activity? How did biological life on earth begin? 

We know many of the components that make up the cell, however the cell is incredibly complex and deconvoluting the role of each component for cellular function is still in its infancy. For example, a single cell contains thousands of different lipid species, but we only know the specific biological role of a handful of these. Understanding which molecules matter and why is the next step in deepening and broadening our understanding of biological systems.

In order to study the role of specific molecules on the level of cells and tissues we use a wide range of multidisciplinary techniques and methodologies to elucidate biological structure and mechanism on a molecular level. We achieve this by perturbing the molecular composition of the cell or reconstituting biological modules into minimal systems to generate physical models for biology. 

Our research focuses on the following areas:

  • Thermodynamic and kinetic understanding of out-of- equilibrium biological processes
  • Analysis of membrane structure and function
  • Synthesis of artificial cells

Protein and lipid mass spectrometry, super-resolution and spinning disk fluorescence microscopy and a number of spectroscopic techniques are among the methods that are routinely used by our chemists, biochemists and synthetic biologists. We design, synthesize and exploit photochemical probes and fluorophores to address our research questions.


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