Nobel Laureate, Chemical Biology Pioneer Spark Ideas at Neuroscience and Chemistry Seminars

The Wertheim UF Scripps community was treated to two thought-provoking scientific talks on Monday (Jan. 29, 2024), from a Nobel laureate known for his work on cellular envelopes, and from an eminent biochemist who has solved many mysteries of collagen, the most abundant protein in the human body.

Randy Schekman, Ph.D., received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2013 for his work at the University of California, Berkeley on understanding cell membrane vesicle trafficking.

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Hosted by Wertheim UF Scripps neuroscientist Srini Subramaniam, Ph.D., as part of the bicoastal Neuroscience Seminar Series, Schekman spoke in Jupiter of his group’s recent work exploring the mechanisms underlying how these tiny envelopes form long membranous tubes and transport cellular cargo between cells.

Sheckman’s group has found that the cellular packages can contain microRNAs, which can affect gene transcription patterns within receiving cells. The vesicles migrate from one cell to another via tubular connections called nanotubes, or secretion from the cell membrane, Shekman’s group has found.

At Wertheim UF Scripps, Subramaniam’s lab recently discovered that nanotube traffic plays a role in the degenerative brain disease Huntington’s , possibly a preview of the potential importance of cellular nanotubes in disease progression.

Earlier in the day, the Wertheim UF Scripps chemistry department hosted Ronald Raines, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Raines’ innovative explorations of the chemical biology of collagen have revealed how its structure creates its properties of both stability and flexibility, and offered new insights into addressing diseases from fibrosis to cancer.

Collagen provides skin, muscle and tendons with elasticity, makes up scar tissue and serves as the connective tissue that holds organs in place. It comprises about a third of all the protein in the body, he noted.

In a nod to the translational focus at The Herbert Wertheim UF Scripps Institute for Biomedical Innovation & Technology, Raines described his team’s development of a probe able to detect collagen-associated lung fibrosis, and an RNA-cleaving enzyme that is under development as a cancer treatment.  

 “I always like visiting this campus,” Raines said. “The singular focus on science here is really unique.”