RNA-protein (RNP) complexes are central to many fundamental processes of gene regulation and genome maintenance in all kingdoms of life. The RNA components of these molecular machines often carry out diverse functions, acting as guide, template, scaffold, or catalyst. Despite this versatility, RNAs require protein partners to function, and the interactions that form between these components often dictate the overall activity of the RNP complex. Our lab is interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying the function of RNPs from diverse cellular pathways. To that end, we combine a broad range of biochemical and structural tools to study RNA and protein structure, interactions and function.
In particular, we are interested in RNA-protein complexes involved in bacterial and archaeal CRISPR (clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats) immune systems. These interference pathways utilize small guide RNAs that partner with effector proteins to neutralize foreign genetic threats from bacteriophage and plasmids. CRISPR RNPs must survey the complex milieu of the cell for invasive nucleic acids, targeting them for destruction while avoiding potentially damaging off-target effects. Our lab hopes to understand both the molecular details of this interference mechanism and the activation of CRISPR systems during immune response.