Raman named to journal’s ‘Future of Biochemistry’ list

Photo of Vatsan Raman
Assistant professor Vatsan Raman.

Assistant professor of biochemistry Vatsan Raman was recently named to a list of 44 young researchers featured in Biochemistry’s “Future of Biochemistry” special issue.

“It’s exciting to be invited to be part of this group, but what’s more exciting is that the rest of the researchers in this group are phenomenal,” Raman says. “I know some of them personally and they really cover the entire spectrum of research and represent the next big things in biochemistry. I’m happy to be a part of an amazing group of people that I respect.”

For the special issue, he wrote a perspective piece on understanding and designing allosteric proteins, a major part of his research lab. These proteins are mysterious in how they function but play major roles in cellular function, such as signaling, gene regulation, and transport.

Cover of the journal issue
The cover of Biochemistry’s “Future of Biochemistry” special issue. Taken from: http://pubs.acs.org/toc/bichaw/57/1

“The analogy for allosteric proteins is if you tapped your head and it caused your foot to move,” says Raman, who is also a part of the Department of Bacteriology as well as an affiliate of the Wisconsin Energy Institute and the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center it houses. “That’s how these proteins work naturally. There’s some stimulus they get at one end and it results in a function at the other end. It’s extremely common but the big question is how does it actually happen?”

Allostery is a difficult scientific problem, adds Raman, and those working in the field of protein science have been chipping away at these proteins for the last 50 years or so. New modern techniques give researchers new opportunities to really open the field of allostery, he says. While a small fraction of proteins meets the strict definition of allostery, researchers are finding more and more proteins function subtly in this way.

Although difficult to study, if researchers can solve the mysteries of allosteric proteins they can further use that information to design new proteins, making different parts of a protein “kick” and different activities happen on another part of the protein. These designed proteins could be useful in many different applications, such as medicine, environmental sensing, and bioenergy.

“After finding out more about them, the next piece is seeing how can we use this information to design allosteric proteins toward new functions,” Raman says. “It’s a fun and cool field to be in. It has many synthetic biology applications.”

Steve Mansoorabadi, who graduated with a Ph.D. from Biochemistry in 2006 and is now an assistant professor at Auburn University, was also on the list.