Research in the Raines Lab

Chemistry to Understand and Control Life Processes

The Raines Lab is working to reveal how biological phenomena can be explained with the refined principles and sharp-edged tools of chemistry. Our focus is on proteins, which are chains of amino acids.

Our bodies produce over a million distinct proteins. Their amino acid sequences fold into particular three-dimensional structures, and those structures perform the molecular functions that are necessary for us to live. These functions include catalysis of biochemical reactions (by enzymes), stimulation of cellular activity (by hormones), and neutralization of pathogens (by antibodies). In the Raines Lab, we are seeking fundamental insights into the relationship between amino acid sequence and protein function (or dysfunction), we are creating novel proteins with desirable properties, and we are developing means to deliver functional proteins into human cells.

Hypotheses in the Raines Lab are far-reaching. Testing them leads us to ideas and techniques from diverse disciplines, ranging from synthetic organic chemistry and biophysics to cell biology and genetics. With this integrative approach, we have discovered an RNA-cleaving enzyme that is in a multi-site human clinical trial as an anti-cancer agent; revealed that unappreciated forces—the nπ* interaction and C5 hydrogen bond—stabilize all proteins; created hyperstable and human-scale synthetic collagens; and developed processes to synthesize proteins, catalyze their folding, and facilitate their entry into human cells, and to convert crude biomass into useful fuels and chemicals.

Our efforts focus on the chemistry and biology of proteins, as well as on their use as biomaterials. Participating provides broad/deep training for young scientists who seek to perform innovative and meaningful research at the flourishing chemistry–biology interface. This training is done at MIT, which is at the epicenter of life sciences research.

The Raines Lab is located in the modernist Dreyfus Building, which is in the center of the MIT campus (Building 18) between large sculptures by Alexander Calder (“La Grande Voile“) and Louise Nevelson (“Transparent Horizon“) and an installation by Sol LeWitt (“Bars of Color Within Squares“). The Dreyfus Building was designed by MIT alumnus I. M. Pei and renovated by Goody Clancy in 2003.

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