April 30, 2020

Loening Secures NSF Research Support

Professor of Chemistry Nikolaus Loening was awarded a three-year National Science Foundation research grant for his project, RUI: Exploring the Structural Basis of Dynein Regulation

Professor of Chemistry Nikolaus Loening has been awarded a three-year $297,000 research grant by the National Science Foundation’s Chemistry of Life Processes (CLP) Program. This program supports “fundamental experimental and computational studies at the interface of chemistry and biology” and seeks projects that seek to understand the molecular underpinnings of life processes, are based on innovations in chemistry, and address important questions about biological processes.

Dr. Loening’s research focuses primarily on the development of new methods for nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and the application this technique to a variety of chemical and biological problems. Current applications of NMR spectroscopy include chemical analysis, screening drug targets, the determination of protein structures, and understanding fluid dynamics. This particular research project will use a variety of techniques—including NMR spectroscopy, isothermal titration calorimetry, and circular dichroism—to investigate specific questions about the motor protein dynein and develop a structural model for how it binds to its partners. Further, this grant will provide funds to purchase the equipment needed for the latter two techniques. As Dr. Loening describes, “Inside our cells, motor proteins such as dynein are involved in a variety of processes, including the transport of cargo. For dynein to function, it needs to interact with a number of partner proteins including its main interaction partner dynactin. However, little is known about the structural basis for how dynein’s interactions with dynactin are regulated.” Beginning in August 2020, this grant will allow Dr. Loening and his research team to address some of the open questions in this area of research.

This three-year grant will support meaningful summer research experiences for at least nine Lewis & Clark undergraduates and three high school students through Saturday Academy’s Apprenticeships in Science & Engineering (ASE) program. In addition, NSF support will enable some components of this research to be integrated into several chemistry courses, which will engage a large number of undergraduate students—both science and non-science majors even beyond the funded project.

It is worth noting that Dr. Loening is the lead Principal Investigator on two recent successful grant applications, to the National Science Foundation and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust, that combined have enabled the College to purchase a new 600 MHz NMR Spectrometer. It is expected that this instrument will be installed by the end of this semester and begin supporting a variety of research projects, including this one, later this year.

Related PubComm Story dated July 9, 2020