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Physics of Protein Evolutionary Switches and Phase Separation in Membraneless Organelles
Prof Hue Sun Chan, Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto
Date : 3 Jan 2017 (Tuesday)
Time : 3:00 - 4:30 pm
Venue : Chen Kuan Cheng Forum (LT-H), HKUST
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Recent studies indicate that selection of latent traits can be an efficient route to new function, and that the “adaptive conflict” between the old fold and the new fold can be resolved by gene duplication. Intense research in the past 1.5 decades has also demonstrated that not all proteins function as folded structures. Intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs) perform critical functions, especially for the regulation of cellular processes in higher organisms. Remarkably, some IDPs function not only as individual molecules, but also collectively by undergoing liquid-liquid phase separation in the living cell. The resulting high-IDP phase forms a major component of membraneless organelles that, by creating their own IDP-rich compartments, stimulate critical biological functions.

To gain physical insight into these fascinating phenomena of life, the speaker will discuss the recent advances in using simple computational models and analytical theory to elucidate how new protein folds might have arisen in evolution and how biologically functional phase separation of IDPs is governed by their genetically coded amino acid sequences.


About the speaker

Prof Hue Sun Chan received his MS in Physics and PhD in Theoretical Physics from University of California at Berkeley in 1983 and 1987 respectively. He then joined University of California at San Francisco as a postdoctoral fellow and shifted his research interest to protein biophysics. In 1998, he moved to University of Toronto as an Associate Professor. He is currently the Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Genetics there.

Prof Chan’s research focused on theoretical studies of protein folding and made seminal contributions in the late 1980s. After arriving at Toronto, he turned his attention to the physical origins of folding cooperativity and broadened his research interests to include thermodynamics of solvent-mediated interactions, protein evolution, protein interactions involving intrinsically disordered proteins, and DNA topology.

Prof Chan has published more than 125 research papers, which have received a total of more than 12,000 citations. He is a member of the Biophysical Society (US) since 1996 and an editorial board member of Proteins: Structure, Function & Bioinformatics since 2001. Prof Chan received the Premier’s Research Excellence Award in 2000 and was elected the Canada Research Chair during 2001-2010.

For attendees’ attention


  The lecture is free and open to all. Seating is on a first come, first served basis.



HKUST Jockey Club Institute for Advanced Study
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