Conversations in Science
for K-12 Educators

A program conceived and organized by the Wisconsin Initiative for Science Literacy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with the collaboration of the Madison Metropolitan School District and the Edgewood Sonderegger Science Center.

Thursday, December 9, 2004 at 4:00 p.m.

Proteins and Protein-Like Molecules: Extrapolating from Nature

Samuel H. Gellman, Ph.D.
Professor of Chemistry, U of W - Madison

About the conversation:

Life is based on myriad complex operations at the molecular level, and proteins carry out most of these operations. Proteins are large by molecular standards; hundreds or thousands of small building blocks ("alpha-amino acids") are strung together to generate very long, flexible molecules. Proper function usually requires that a protein fold to a very specific and complex shape. If the protein unfolds, function is lost. This lecture will provide an introduction to (or reminder of) the chemical structures of proteins and the alpha-amino acid building blocks, the shapes that proteins adopt, and the relationship between protein function and molecular shape. Gellman will then discuss some of his laboratory's research, which aims to create new molecules with useful properties by extension of protein structural principles to unnatural systems.

About the speaker:

Sam Gellman has been a member of the UW-Madison Chemistry faculty for 17 years. Gellman earned his A.B. at Harvard University in 1981 and his Ph.D. at Columbia University in 1986. After a short stint as a post-doctoral fellow at the California Institute of Technology, Gellman joined the UW faculty in 1987. Gellman has published more than 130 scholarly articles and filed more than a dozen patent applications while at the University of Wisconsin. His laboratory has graduated 29 PhD students, in both chemistry and biophysics. Gellman is Chair of the Organic Division within the Department of Chemistry, and he has served on a variety of national and international review panels and editoral advisory boards. In addition to running an active research laboratory, in which graduate students are trained to be scientsts, Gellman teaches undergraduate courses roughly three of every four semesters, and graduate courses in the remaining semesters.

Suggested Reading:

The sections on proteins and nucleic acids (DNA and RNA) in any introductory chemistry or biology text book. More specialized articles:
"Foldamers: A Manifesto," S. H. Gellman Acc. Chem. Res. 1998, 31, 173.
"Antibiotics: Non-Haemolytic ?-Amino Acid Oligomers," E. A. Porter, X. Wang, H.-S. Lee, B. Weisblum and S. H. Gellman Nature 2000, 404, 565.