2020 Norman Heatley Award Winner
Professor Andrew Baldwin, University of Oxford
Awarded for the development and application of chemical methods for understanding the biology of membraneless organelles.
Professor Baldwin’s work includes the study of different types of large protein assemblies, or ‘aggregates’. One of these aggregates is ‘bad’ in the sense that it is linked to disease and the other is ‘good’ as it dictates normal cellular function. Protein aggregation involves studying systems that start off as individuals that stick together and end up with clusters of indefinite size. Both systems are immensely challenging targets for experimental and theoretical analyses. Neurodegenerative disorders and dementias are associated with proteins aggregating and forming ‘amyloid fibrils’ in the brain.
The research team is focused on membraneless organelles – protein aggregates that form in all of our cells at different times to do a wide range of biochemical duties. Their work tells us that the mechanisms by which both of these processes occur follows straightforward principles of physical chemistry and shows membraneless cells can create small patches of organic solvent inside cells. This has allowed the team to discover that organisms, whenever they need to, can behave a little bit like organic chemists and create patches of solvent suspended inside cells with carefully designed properties.
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