The research interest of the Ming Zhou Lab is the study of membrane transport proteins and membrane embedded enzymes. Lipid bilayer membranes form water-impermeable barriers that define the boundaries of biological cells and of specialized compartments within cells. Membrane proteins are embedded in lipid bilayers and serve a wide range of essential cellular functions, such as mediating signal transduction through the membrane, facilitating uptake of nutrients and excretion of wastes, and metabolizing of lipids and fatty acids.
The main impetus behind our research program is the desire to understand how membrane proteins work at the molecular level, both to improve our understanding of biological mechanisms and to provide information on protein-ligand interactions of physiological and pharmacological significance. In particular, our focus is on two families of proteins, membrane transport proteins that facilitate transmembrane flux of ions and small molecules, and membrane-embedded enzymes that are involved in synthesis and modification of lipids, fatty acids, cholesterol and terpenoids.
We apply structural approaches such as X-ray crystallography and cryo-electron microscopy to solve structures membrane proteins, and then test structure-inspired hypotheses with various biophysical and biochemical experiments.