Chemical Biology, Bioinorganic Chemistry, and Inorganic Chemistry
Our laboratory studies metals in biology and energy by pursuing new concepts in sensing and catalysis that draw from core disciplines of inorganic, organic, and biological chemistry. We have developed activity-based sensing (ABS) as a general technology platform to enable biological applications that include imaging and diagnostics, proteomics, and drug discovery. These new chemical tools have identified copper, hydrogen peroxide, and formaldehyde as signals for regulating processes spanning neural activity and neurodegeneration to cancer and fat metabolism, opening a field of transition metal signaling. We are advancing artificial photosynthesis through the development of molecular catalysts for sustainable electrosynthesis that mimic enzyme biocatalysts or heterogeneous materials catalysts, as well as hybrid catalysts that merge design concepts from molecular, materials, and biological catalysts. Representative project areas are summarized below.
Transition Metal Signaling: Metalloallostery in the Brain and Beyond. We are advancing a new paradigm of transition metal signaling, where essential nutrients like copper and iron can serve as dynamic signals for biology by binding to metalloallosteric sites to regulate protein function beyond traditional active sites. We are developing activity-based sensing (ABS) probes for fluorescence and bioluminescence imaging of dynamic transition metal pools, chemoproteomic identification and biochemical characterization of new metalloprotein targets, and drug discovery to treat disease within the lens of metalloplasias. We work across cell, zebrafish, and mouse models to study transition metal signaling in cancer, obesity and fatty liver disease, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Activity-Based Sensing: Redox and One-Carbon Signaling. We are developing the concept of activity-based sensing (ABS), which is an emerging field that utilizes chemical reactivity rather than conventional lock-and-key binding, to probe and manipulate biological systems. We synthesize activity-based probes for fluorescence and bioluminescence imaging of reactive oxygen species and one-carbon units to study basic biology of redox and one-carbon signaling and metabolism in cell animal models. We also create activity-based probes for bioconjugation chemistry and chemoproteomics in the context of drug discovery.
Artificial Photosynthesis: Catalyzing Sustainable Electrosynthesis. We are developing catalysts for sustainable electrosynthesis to address changing climate and rising global energy demands. Inspired by natural photosynthesis, which catalyzes conversion of the abundant chemical resources of light, water, and carbon dioxide to produce the value-added products needed to sustain life, we are taking a unified approach to this small-molecule activation problem by creating molecular electrocatalysts for carbon dioxide reduction and nitrogen/phosphorus cycling that draw on design principles from molecular, materials, and biological catalysis and operate in water.
In the News
A new study is further burnishing copper’s reputation as an essential nutrient for human physiology. A research team has found that copper plays a key role in metabolizing fat.
Chris Chang, who is part of the Sackler Sabbatical Exchange Program, carries out experiments to find proteins that bind to copper and may influence the storage and burning of fat.
UC Berkeley chemists have taken a promising new material that captures and stores carbon dioxide and altered it to convert the captured carbon into a chemical useful to industry.
A potentially game-changing breakthrough in artificial photosynthesis has been achieved with the development of a system that can capture carbon dioxide emissions before they are vented into the atmosphere and then, powered by solar energy, convert that carbon dioxide into valuable chemical products.
A new study shows that proper copper levels are essential to the health of the brain at rest.
Two state-of-the-art research areas – nanotech and optogenetics – were the dominant theme last Thursday, Sept. 18, as six researchers from UC Berkeley, UC San Francisco and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory sketched out their teams’ bold plans to jump-start new brain research.
UC Berkeley chemists Chris Chang, Jeff Long and Marcin Majda have redesigned catalysts in ways that could have a profound impact on the chemical industry as well as on the growing market for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.