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Renowned Scientist To Join Rensselaer Biocomputation and Bioinformatics Group

Fri, 2007-09-14 14:16 -- Anonymous

September 14, 2007

Troy, N.Y. — George Makhatadze is a designer. But instead of expensive jeans and haute handbags, he is creating custom proteins that could improve everything from medication to detergent. Makhatadze is bringing his expertise in biology, chemistry, and computation to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute as a chaired professor in the Biocomputation and Bioinformatics research constellation.

George Makhatadze

George Makhatadze
Photo Credit: Rensselaer/Gabrielle DeMarco

Constellations are interdisciplinary teams of faculty and student researchers. Much like the stars that comprise interstellar constellations, the chairs of constellations at Rensselaer are the stars that guide research in different key areas. The Biocomputation and Bioinformatics constellation is part of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (CBIS). The researchers within the constellation combine the power of modern computing with biotechnology, providing researchers with the reams of data that they need to understand how genes and proteins function. Makhatadze joins Senior Biocomputation and Bioinformatics Constellation Chair and renowned theoretical physicist Angel E. García.

“Dr. Makhatadze’s interdisciplinary research combines biocomputation with modern experimental tools to understand the structure and dynamic properties of proteins, a basic building block of life,” Provost Robert Palazzo said. “His expertise will help drive continued development of the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies at Rensselaer.  And now, as we open the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI), he will have the world’s most powerful university computing center at his fingertips. Together with world class colleagues and Rensselaer’s outstanding student base, Dr. Makhatadze will be able to take advantage of the unique research and education platform that Rensselaer provides. I am certain that Dr. Makhatadze will add to his already impressive reputation in research and teaching while having a major impact on the university as a whole.”

Makhatadze is a biophysical chemist who has published more than 80 scientific papers on his research. He comes to Rensselaer from Penn State University College of Medicine, where he served as a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and directed a graduate program in chemical biology for eight years.

At Rensselaer, Makhatadze’s research will focus on using extremely powerful computers and computational methods to design stable custom proteins. Proteins are very unstable and are unfolding and changing over time as they are impacted by heat, pressure, ionic composition, and other conditions. Their unruly nature makes their use in modern applications such as nanomaterials and medicine extremely difficult.

Makhatadze’s research uses computers to study proteins as they change their structure and pinpoint ways to chemically alter them so that they remain stable over a long period of time even after exposure to the extreme conditions. Stable proteins have wide implications for use in antibodies to treat cancer, as organic compounds in environmentally friendly cleaning products, for safely bleaching paper, and developing high-performance biosensors. Understanding proteins will help develop natural biologic materials and reduce the need for synthetic and possibly environmentally hazardous chemicals.

To perform his research, Makhatadze will utilize extremely powerful computers including the world’s most powerful university-based supercomputing center, the Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI). The computational results are further validated experimentally in his lab using a broad array of biophysical and biochemical methods that probe structure, function and stability of designed proteins and enzymes.

Makhatadze received a bachelor’s in physics from Georgia State University and a doctorate in biochemistry and biophysics from the Institute of Protein Research in Moscow, Russia. He performed his postdoctoral research at the Johns Hopkins University and later joined the faculty of Texas Tech University before joining Penn State in 1999. He is on the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Biochemica et Biophisica Acta, and Protein Engineering, Design and Selection. He is a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Biophysical Society, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, and the Protein Society. He is also a past and present member of the scientific review committees for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Rensselaer Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies
Ranked among the world’s most advanced research facilities, Rensselaer’s Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies provides a state-of-the-art platform for collaborative research. At the Center, faculty and students in diverse academic and research disciplines are crossing the divide between the life sciences and engineering to encourage discovery and innovation. Rensselaer’s four biotechnology research constellations — biocatalysis and metabolic engineering, functional tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, biocomputation and bioinformatics, and integrative systems biology — engage a multidisciplinary mix of faculty and students to help create new technologies that will improve the lives of people around the world.

Contact: Gabrielle DeMarco
Phone: (518) 276-6542
E-mail: demarg@rpi.edu