Research in the Pakrasi Lab falls under three broad and interlocking themes: Systems Biology, Synthetic Biology, and Molecular Machines. This is reflected in all we do – from the design of experiments to the formation of interdisciplinary teams that combine biologists, engineers, and mathematicians, and in which we all strive to learn each others’ languages, approaches, and techniques.
Molecular Machines refers to seeking to understand the form and function of individual components of cells, such as the topography of photosynthetic membranes, or the structure of proteins that absorb sunlight and transform its energy into chemical forms.
Systems Biology, on the other hand, refers to the study of how individual cellular components work together to create the organism-level and population-level behaviors we see in living organisms. Examples in our lab include defining a set of genes that form a generalized response to many different stressful conditions that cyanobacteria face, or taking an inventory of all the different protein components of a photosystem to better understand its assembly and function.
Finally, we seek to apply the knowledge obtained through other studies via Synthetic Biology. The synthetic biologist seeks to build new forms of life having new and valuable capabilities such as producing drugs, fuels, or specialty chemicals by combining genes from different organisms into a chassis organism. Successful execution of such an approach requires detailed knowledge of both individual cellular components and how they interact, and also provides a challenging test of that knowledge base.