Egenis Seminar with Dr Mathias Grote 'Microbes, macromolecules and nanomachines: Rhodopsin research in between chemistry, technologies and the life sciences'
SpeakersDr Mathias Grote, Egenis Research Fellow, University of Exeter
VenueUniversity of Exeter,Egenis,Byrne House,St Germans Road,Exeter, EX4 4PJRoom no: GF7, Byrne House
Time: 3:00 - 4:30 pm
The concept of molecules performing work straddles today's life sciences, chemical research and various nanotechnologies. Metaphors such as molecular “motors”, “switches” or “gates” proliferate in explanations of organismal function through physicochemical concepts and thereby link science and technology in novel ways – although they rest on an age-old footing. In this talk, I will analyse the concept of macromolecules as nanomachines along the history of microbiology and membrane research.
My special focus will be research on microbial rhodopsins, photoactive membrane proteins. In the 1970s, these proteins became paradigmatic for an entire branch of research investigating membrane transport through structure-function relationships in macromolecules. Bacteriorhodopsin was the prototype of a “molecular pump” that mechanistically exports protons from cells. These machine-like features were central to the metamorphosis of rhodopsins into technical objects. Today, these proteins are utilized in various technologies, ranging from applications as a copy-protection pigment for ID-cards to 'optogenetic tools' for the remote control of animal behaviour in the neurosciences.
I will use the case of microbial rhodopsins as an anchor to address the philosophical question of how scientific objects are formed at the intersection of different experimental strategies. Moreover, my talk highlights the often underestimated impact of microbiology and chemical research on the life sciences. Influences of concepts and practices from these fields range from the basic level of laboratory routines to translation of science into tools and products. The rhodopsin story thus provides a novel perspective on the development of the 20th century life sciences.