WashU engineer, collaborators win $1 million international grant

A biophysicist in the School of Engineering & Applied Science at Washington University in St. Louis is part of an international team of scientists that has received a three-year, $1 million 2017 Human Frontier Science Program grant to uncover the molecular logic and organization of specialized micrometer-sized structures in cells.

Rohit Pappu

Rohit V. Pappu, the Edwin H. Murty Professor of Engineering in the Department of Biomedical Engineering and director of the Center for Biological Systems Engineering, is part of a team that will use advanced imaging and modeling to answer fundamental questions about membraneless organelles that encompass protein and RNA molecules and serve as micro-reactors and stress response depots in cells. Their work will focus on uncovering the organization of membraneless organelles and the selective permeability of biomolecules into these organelles.

These studies are directly relevant to understanding how cells control crucial decision-making processes such as division, movement and programmed death. In addition, the proposed studies will have a direct impact on understanding how membraneless organelles serve as crucibles for degenerative processes in diseases such as ALS and in proliferative processes that give rise to cancers.

Pappu is part of a team that includes Stephen W. Michnick of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Montreal, who is principal investigator, and Simon Alberti, a group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden, Germany.

The highly competitive Research Grants provide support for international teams with members from at least two countries. Team members are expected to broaden the character of their research compared with their ongoing research programs and interact with teams bringing expertise different from their own to create novel approaches to problems in fundamental biology. In 2017, the program awarded $30 million to support the top 3 percent of Research Grant Applications.

The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis focuses intellectual efforts through a new convergence paradigm and builds on strengths, particularly as applied to medicine and health, energy and environment, entrepreneurship and security. With 98 tenured/tenure-track and 38 additional full-time faculty, 1,300 undergraduate students, 1,200 graduate students and 20,000 alumni, we are working to leverage our partnerships with academic and industry partners — across disciplines and across the world — to contribute to solving the greatest global challenges of the 21st century.