Tamir Gonen investigates the structure and function of cell membrane proteins that act as receptors, channels, and transporters and play critical roles in homeostasis and signaling, as well as nutrient, ion, and water uptake. His work seeks to understand how the thousands of channels and transporters in a single cell membrane maintain homeostasis – keeping that cell in balance and functioning properly.
Gonen and his team employ an array of structural biology techniques, such as electron cryo-microscopy (cryo EM), X-ray crystallography, nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) microscopy, and molecular dynamics simulations, and integrate principles and concepts of membrane biochemistry and biophysics in their work. In recent years, Gonen and his team developed an important new method in cryo EM, namely electron micro-diffraction (MicroED). With this approach, Gonen can generate atomic-resolution protein structures from crystals one-billion times smaller than those needed for X-ray crystallography.
Gonen uses MicroED to solve unknown protein structures and identify structural differences between proteins down to single atoms. This work has implications for drug discovery and understanding what has gone wrong at the membrane level in the case of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.