I am interested in how, on a detailed molecular basis, proteins bind to small molecules and how this can alter the protein's function. The interaction of small molecules with protein receptors is important for many diverse biological processes and plays a fundamental role in both healthy and disease states, as well as being the basis of many disease treatments.
Starting in my postdoctoral work, I have been studying how bacteria recognize environmental small molecules and how that impacts the decision of a bacteria to form a multicellular community, called a biofilm. My research uses the model bacterium Bacillus subtilis, which forms beneficial biofilms on the roots of some plants and is commercially used as an environmentally-friendly plant protectant. While many genes that regulate biofilm formation in B. subtilis are well characterized, which chemical signals promote biofilm formation and how these signals are recognized by proteins is not well understood. Working with me, students will have the opportunity to conduct research to increase our mechanistic understanding of how the environment induces bacterial biofilms as well as learn the basics of how interactions with small molecules can affect a protein's function.