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UT Austin Seminar: Allie Obermeyer, Columbia University

“Engineering Protein and Polyelectrolyte Interactions for Cellular Applications”

Protein de-mixing has recently been implicated in the organization of cellular components. These phase separated membraneless organelles create distinct environments that are essential to cellular processes ranging from cell signaling to gene expression. Several membraneless organelles appear to have the same physical properties as complex coacervates – liquid-liquid phase separated mixtures of oppositely charged polyelectrolytes. However, protein polymers differ significantly from synthetic polyelectrolytes. Proteins are amphoteric, have low charge density, and frequently adopt a globular folded structure. These differences impact the complexation and phase separation of proteins with polyelectrolytes. We are motivated to understand protein complex coacervation in order to enable new biological applications of these materials. Toward this end, we are interested in utilizing the physical phenomenon of complex coacervation and principles underlying the formation of liquid-like biological condensates to create synthetic membraneless organelles. We have investigated the complex coacervation of engineered proteins with biological polyelectrolytes to determine predictive design rules for protein phase separation. We employ these design rules to create synthetic organelles by promoting phase separation of engineered proteins in E. coli.

Allie Obermeyer is an Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering at Columbia University. The Obermeyer Group harnesses the biological and polymeric properties of proteins to create new materials. These studies blend approaches from chemical and synthetic biology, protein engineering, and polymer physics. Allie obtained her undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Rice University and performed undergraduate research in the laboratory of Seiichi P.T. Matsuda. She then joined the Department of Chemistry at UC Berkeley and earned a PhD degree under the guidance of Matthew Francis as a part of the Chemical Biology Graduate Program. She subsequently conducted postdoctoral training in the Chemical Engineering department at MIT as an Arnold Beckman postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Bradley Olsen. In 2017, she started her independent career at Columbia University. She has been the recipient of an NSF CAREER and NIH MIRA award.