The Bolla Laboratory uses state-of-the-art structural tools such as native mass spectrometry, cryo-electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of large protein machineries involved in transport across biological membranes.
The main focus of the lab is to understand the mechanism of protein import into chloroplasts. These unique organelles generate most of the food and oxygen that is required for all life on Earth through a process called photosynthesis. Chloroplasts are also the site for several secondary compounds that have industrial uses as agrichemicals, fragrances, biofuels, and pharmaceuticals. In order for chloroplasts to function properly, they need to import >2000 different nuclear-encoded preproteins across the double-membrane envelope. This transport is mediated by the coordinated action of the sophisticated translocation systems at the chloroplasts’ outer and inner membranes (TOC and TIC respectively). Recently, progress has been made in identifying the main components of these machineries. However, the structural organisation of the complexes remains elusive. Using structural approaches, we would like to answer: 1) What is the subunit stoichiometry and architecture of the assembled TOC complexes? 2) What are the key structural elements important for preprotein binding and translocation? We will further complement our structural information with other mass spectrometry (MS) methods, namely proteomics, lipidomics, cross-linking MS and hydrogen/Deuterium Exchange MS, and in vivo cell biological data. A complete understanding of how these complexes assemble and function will then enable us to modify plants so we can increase crop yields to meet the needs of the growing population, which is set to reach 9 billion by 2050.
Building upon the PI’s extensive expertise, the laboratory is also interested in understanding the multiprotein-complex machineries involved in Gram-negative bacterial cell envelope biogenesis, with particular emphasis on how the cell envelope contents from pathogenic bacteria affect human and plant health.
To achieve our goals, we have assembled a team of young scientists from different disciplines and work together in a highly collaborative manner. If you are interested in joining us, please get in touch! The laboratory is currently supported by funds from the department, the Royal Society and the Kavli Institute for Nanoscience Discovery.