Noah Epstein

Structure and Properties of the Iron Sulfur Enzyme, the "Hybrid Cluster Protein"

Iron sulfur enzymes perform some of lifes most challenging chemical transformations, but how these enzymes function is largely unknown. I will be researching the structure, reactivity, and reduction/oxidation properties of a particular iron sulfur enzyme, the hybrid cluster protein (HCP), whose physiological function is unknown despite its presence in all domains of life. One goal of my research is to investigate how the structure of HCP dictates its reactivity towards a variety of substrates. A hallmark of HCP is the presence of an atypical iron-sulfur cluster (dubbed the hybrid cluster) whose structure is unique in biology. We hypothesize that this is the site of substrate binding and activation. I will determine the 3D structure of HCP by first crystallizing this protein and then determining precise atomic positions using X-ray Diffraction. I will then repeat this experiment in the presence of substrates (or with a mutated protein) to gain insight into substrate interactions with the hybrid cluster. Alongside complementary spectroscopic and electrochemical data, we aim to provide clarity to the enigmatic role of this ubiquitous enzyme.

Message to Sponsor

The amount of work I dedicated to my project, knowledge I gained about my field, and personal growth I experienced has made these last few months some of the most valuable I've had. Over the course of the program, I was, for the first time, finally able to experience what it is like to be wholly dedicated to research--that is, to have research exist not only as a worthwhile but otherwise noncompulsory partner to my coursework, but instead as THE reason for my presence in Berkeley. I found that it was easier to get excited about my project when I could devote all my working time to it, and this has convinced me even further that graduate school is a step in the right direction for me. Additionally, the community, diversity in thought, and drive of the SURF cohort was a life-changing thing to experience, and opened my eyes to the simplicity and globality of what research is: a communal human effort to answer questions. There are a myriad of questions I have never thought of and will never think of--but someone on Earth has, and is actively working to provide clarity to that little piece of our world and/or our experience. It was humbling and exciting to see how small a role I play in the global process of research, even through the showcase of only 123 researchers' work. Thank you to the Rose Hills Foundation for giving me the opportunity to be a tiny part of one of humanity's greatest contributions to itself--research.
  • Major: Chemical Biology
  • Sponsor: Rose Hills Experience
  • Mentor: Jonathan Rittle