Paul Schanda ERC Starting Grant 2012

A young IBS researcher, Paul Schanda (Biomolecular NMR Spectroscopy Group) has been awarded an ERC Starting Grant* by the European Research Council (ERC) for his study of functional dynamics of proteins. The grant is worth EUR 1.49 million. Paul is the second researcher in the NMR group to obtain this prestigious grant (after Jerome Boisbouvier in 2010).

This project will investigate the link between motion and function in two challenging systems. On the one hand, the intrinsic dynamics of a membrane protein will be studied in the light of its transport activity. Membrane proteins fulfill a wide range of functions in the cell, and are a prime drug target. Yet, our current knowledge about their structure and dynamics is very limited, due to the difficulties to obtain atomic-resolution data. Importantly, for many functions, such as transport across membranes and signaling, flexibility is a key property. In this project Paul Schanda’s team will use and develop nuclear magnetic resonance techniques to provide unprecedented insight into the intimate connection between motion and function on an atomic level. As a second target, the team will also investigate another class of challenging biological objects : very large chaperones, that assist other proteins in their folding. Their sheer size makes atomic-resolution studies of chaperones at a molecular level a significant challenge. Again, a combination of solution and solid-state NMR will be used to address the function and interaction with client proteins. The main tool used for these studies will be nuclear magnetic resonance, both in solution and in the solid state. The combination of both NMR approaches will allow to go significantly beyond the capabilities of each technique alone.

The structural biologist Paul Schanda developed innovative NMR techniques during his PhD, focusing primarily at speeding up NMR data acquisition. A number of now state-of-the-art tools, have accelerated NMR by more than one order of magnitude, and allow nowadays to study short-lived protein states, such as folding intermediates in real time. For his post-doc, he switched to an emerging technique in structural biology, solid-state NMR. During his research period at ETH Zurich in B. H. Meier’s lab, he developed and applied solid-state NMR techniques for the study of protein motion in fibrillar and microcrystalline proteins. End of 2010, Paul Schanda joined IBS, where he could set up a small team funded by an ANR grant. The main goal of his team is the study of protein dynamics in challenging biological systems.

*ERC Starting Grants are awarded for a five-year period to academics leading an independent team or programme who have the potential to become world-class researchers