SU course: Structure and dynamics of biological membrane

The second course at Stockholm University is that of Structure and Dynamics of Biological Membrane. The course focuses on the importance of interaction between lipids and the membrane proteins.

This course has a lot of Biochemistry involved. It covers a range of topics and relates them to the biological membranes i.e. lipid bi-layer and the its significance. The course starts with an introduction of types of lipids and their basic structures. Further, their ability to form membranes and various composition of those membranes to hold and facilitate different kind of membrane proteins. The next part was the study of the membrane proteins that populate these membranes and how they fold and insert into the membrane.

Protein translocation lecture – Insertion of membrane protein as depicted in by the interaction of 3D crystal structures, giving an insight into the structural information

After understanding the energetics of membrane protein folding and insertion, we explored various organelles, and the variety of enzyme complex systems that it has to offer, which are (yes, you guessed it correctly) membrane proteins. The most basic systems such as respiration in plants (plant photosystems), mitochondrial respiratory complex are all examples of membrane protein (enzyme) complexes, that play the most crucial role of energy production.  This sounds like revising the basics, however, with great structural and mechanistic insights into each system.

In the course we also did a group activity where we were given a protein and its crystal structure. Based in this we had to determine the function and the mechanism of the protein. The goal was to experience the real life problems faced by a structural biologist and understand the ways adopted to decode the structure based functional mystery. In the demo lab, we test one of these membrane protein to show that they follow Michaelis-Menten kinetics using an artificial system that mimics the actual system very closely.

Further, the instructors of the course are themselves researchers and they are very enthusiastic to tell us about various new advance techniques some of which are developed in their own labs. Most of the lecturers are leading researchers in their own field who have developed some of the first techniques or have come up with the first ever idea revolutionizing the field. To mention one such name is Dr. Gunnar von Heijne. His research on the signal peptide and membrane proteins has been a breakthrough.

Learning from such lecturers reminds me of a famous saying that goes – ‘Hearing from the horse’s mouth’!

Lecture on signal peptide – a breakthrough

Even though the course is very specific, it has enabled us to explores a different aspect of biology that was unknown to many of us to this depth.

Attending such lectures is a different experience in itself, learning about various breakthroughs from experts themselves, gives me an adrenaline rush while encouraging me to be at their place some day!