Professional and Biographical Information

Submitted by Nidanie Henderson-Stull on Friday, 9/20/2019, at 9:31 PM


Postdoctoral Scholarship, Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley, (2005-2008)

Ph.D., Biological Sciences, Molecular Biophysics, The Rockefeller University (2005)

B.S., Biochemistry, Spelman College (1995)

Courses Taught at Amherst

I teach courses in Biology (BIOL191: Genes, Molecules, and Cells; BIOL/BCBP301: Structural Biology) and Biochemistry (BIOL/CHEM-330: Biochemical Principles of Life at the Molecular Level); (BIOL/CHEM/BCBP-331: Biochemistry).

Teaching Philosophy

I once read somewhere that teaching only occurs when learning is happening. I like that truism for both its rigor and simplicity, and I let it guide my approach to teaching. A word on my lectures: You may find some unconventional. Some parts may be even “comical” (in the words of one student). Whatever shape my lectures take, I aim for relevant learning activities that help you grasp both the big picture and the nitty gritty, but important, details. Learning in my courses is a matter of thinking both critically and reflectively about the material presented. These are the habits of inquiry you will use to solve problems in my courses and beyond. My assessments focus on comprehension, not just memorization of content (although some memorization is inevitable in biochemistry). We all google for answers, but in my classes, this otherwise useful tool can hamper the learning we seek. That is why on my tests and quizzes, incorrect or incomplete answers earn partial credit if their rationale has merit. I reward my students’ willingness to wrestle with the demands of this discipline. I respect your inquiry and the effort it takes to learn deeply. I respect you, and the time and energy you bring to class. I want to model and reflect this effort, so you will see me work hard to help you learn. I also work hard to be fair. By the end of our course, I hope at least some of my love for biochemistry, biophysics, or research rubs off on you.

Research Interests

Proteins are more than just the bestowers of shiny, lustrous hair, hard nails, and strong muscles that TV commercials would have us believe. Every single cell in our bodies contains a diverse set of proteins, each with its own specialized function including structural integrity, transport, immunity, biocatalysis, homeostasis, cellular communication, and energetics. Since a protein’s specific function is correlated with its particular shape, studying the structures of these large, complex biomolecules helps us to learn about their function.

Research efforts in my laboratory are directed towards determining the three dimensional structures and monitoring the reactions of a diverse class of proteins called multienzyme polypeptides, which can harbor as many as a dozen catalytic units in a single polypeptide chain. Student researchers in the lab learn a variety of techniques and skills from molecular biology, biochemistry, biophysics, and structural and computational biology. Students working on these projects also appreciate that our results have real-world implications in medicine and manufacturing.

  • Drug design: The enzymes we study have been shown to cause cancer when mutated or expressed abnormally in cells. Understanding differences between the normal cellular structure of these enzymes and their mutant forms can aid in drug design and potentially patient well-being.
  • Biocatalyst design: Although biocatalysts offer cost- and energy-effective alternatives to traditional chemical manufacturing processes, there are industrial processes where biocatalysts do not exist or present protein catalysts function poorly. The need to optimize existing or discover novel protein catalysts that function in industrial settings is paramount. Improved understanding of the multienzyme polypeptide’s unique engineering will impact innovation in the design of multifunctional biocatalysts.