Igor Dikiy, a postdoctoral researcher with the CUNY ASRC’s Structural Biology Initiative (SBI), was recently awarded a Ruth A. Kirchstein National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health, a program that funds research and training for predoctoral and postdoctoral researchers throughout the US.
Dikiy studies how bacterial proteins detect environmental changes and pass such information on to the rest of the cell. Understanding these mechanisms can lead to development of targeted therapeutics or engineered biosensors. He joined SBI Director Kevin Gardner’s lab in 2015 as a postdoctoral researcher from the Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences.
“I am using a light-responsive sensor protein from a marine bacterium as a model system for these signaling events in the cell,” Dikiy said. “Building off the lab’s foundation in this area will let me develop a clearer understanding of the molecular changes in this class of protein, which is important for developing new drugs against pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli, S. aureus, and V. cholerae.”
With this fellowship, Dikiy will build on his previous biochemistry experience using the significant expertise and capabilities of the Gardner lab and ASRC to pursue an interdisciplinary project.
“A key strength of the ASRC is its focus on interdisciplinary research,” Kevin Gardner said, “which relies on people from different backgrounds working together and thinking creatively about combining approaches to tackle fundamental problems in our scientific fields. Igor and his research outstandingly exemplify this principle, ranging from Igor expanding his traditional training in chemical engineering and biophysics, to his ambitious mix of technologies to characterize structures of these molecular machines in multiple functional states.”
Using technologies developed and applied in the SBI, such as NMR spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, and photosensor activity studies—in addition to those provided by collaborating groups at Cornell University’s Advanced Center for ESR Technology—Dikiy will describe the changes that these proteins undergo as they communicate. A further goal of the project is to extend this understanding to related sensor proteins that respond to small molecules rather than light using high-throughput screening technologies to identify small molecule regulators for many other such sensor proteins, most of which are unknown.
“Two-component systems are environmental sensors that regulate many cellular processes in bacteria, plants and fungi, but are absent in mammalian systems,” Dikiy said. “This makes them good targets for drug design or biosensor engineering. However, such efforts are often stymied because the molecular mechanisms of signal transduction in these systems are still not well understood. My research addresses these questions.”
The City University of New York’s Advanced Science Research Center (ASRC) is a University-wide venture that elevates CUNY’s legacy of scientific research and education through initiatives in five distinctive, but increasingly interconnected disciplines: Nanoscience, Photonics, Structural Biology, Neuroscience and Environmental Sciences. The center is designed to promote a unique, interdisciplinary research culture with researchers from each of the initiatives working side by side in the ASRC’s core facilities, sharing equipment that is among the most advanced available.