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Welcome to the Behrmann Lab

Life is not static and neither are the majority of proteins crucial to the function of our cells. However, our structural understanding of these microscopic machines is often limited to one or at best few static snap-shots.

My research group is focused on understanding how the dynamic interplay among a proteins domains defines its biological function. For this, we apply cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) to visualize active protein assemblies in native-like environments. By applying in silico sorting and three-dimensional (3D) reconstruction techniques, we can untangle individual functional states from conformer mixtures, and determine their 3D structures to near-atomic resolution. By comparing multiple functional states obtained from the same sample, we can then uncover the molecular mechanisms underlying the activity of the studied protein.

Our main interest is in proteins embedded into or interacting with the lipid membranes of the cell. Lipid membranes constitute the barrier between “life and death” for each cell, and as such are paramount to the distinction between self and non-self (that is they separate the cell from its surrounding environment). In higher organisms, internal lipid membranes furthermore enable the compartmentalization of reactions. A host of proteins is required to shape these membranes, maintain their identity and allow controlled passage over these biological barriers. The structural basis for these proteins functions is however still largely lacking, especially with regard to dynamic processes.