Department of Structural Biology

Imagine standing on the moon and having eyes so powerful that you can clearly watch a tennis match on Earth. Now imagine that same visual power packed into a high-tech microscope, and you have cryo-EM — a groundbreaking technology that allows scientists to study the smallest components of life in exquisite detail.

Understanding the shape of these critical molecules is vital for understanding their function in health and disease. Scientists in VAI’s Department of Structural Biology harness cryo-EM and other state-of-the-art techniques to visualize molecules that may serve as treatment targets for cancer, neurological disorders, metabolic diseases, infectious diseases and more. They’re revealing groundbreaking new insights into the most fundamental aspects of biology, from parsing the ways cells sense and respond to the environment to illuminating the intricacies of DNA replication. And they’re laying the foundations for new therapies by revealing how a drug molecule disables its target protein.


Recent Publications

Li H*, Burgie S*, Gannam ZTK, Li H#, Vierstra R.D#. (2022). Plant phytochromes are asymmetric dimers with unique signaling potential. Nature.
* Co-first authors
# Co-corresponding authors

Zang F, Georgescu RE, Yao NY, O’Donnell ME*, Li H*. (2022). DNA is loaded through the 911 DNA checkpoint clamp in the opposite direction of the PCNA clampNat Struc Mol Biol.
Co-corresponding authors

Hsu HC, Wang M, Kovach A, Darwin AJ, Li H. 2022. Pseudomonas aeruginosa C-terminal processing protease CtpA assembles into a hexameric structure that requires activation by a spiral-shaped lipoprotein-binding partner. mBio.

Zhao P, Zhao C, Chen D, Yun C, Li H*, Bai L*. 2021. Structure and activation mechanism of the hexameric plasma membrane H+-ATPase. Nat Commun 12:6439.
*Co-corresponding authors
Included as an Editor’s Highlight 

Bai L, Jain BK, You Q, Duan HD, Takar M, Graham TR, Li H. 2021. Structural basis of the P4B ATPase lipid flippase activity. Nat Commun 12:5963.

Ruan Z*, Haley E*, Orozco I*, Sabat M, Myers R, Roth R, Du J#, Lü W#. 2021. Structures of the TRPM5 channel elucidate mechanisms of activation and inhibition. Nat Struct Mol Biol.

Bai L, You Q, Jain BK, Duan HD, Kovach A, Graham TR, Li H. 2020. Transport mechanism of P4 ATPase phosphatidylcholine flippases. eLife.