528th Brookhaven Lecture: Metals, Life, and a Delicate Dance

Photo of Qun Liu

Qun Liu of the Biology Department at Brookhaven Lab

Metals support buildings, bridges, and dams. Metals are also nutrients that support all living things—including people, plants, and microbes. Calcium, for example, is essential for strong bones and teeth, and proteins need calcium for many of their life-supporting roles. Zinc is part of the proteins that enable growth and heal wounds. Plants need metals for the proteins that produce energy from light during photosynthesis.

As with too much of anything, some quantities of metals can be toxic, even lethal. That's why plants naturally strive to maintain balanced levels of metal nutrients. Structural biologists are among the scientists trying to better understand how plants do this. By "solving the structure" of proteins that transport and use metals, structural biologists are finding important clues to optimize plants' production of biofuels for clean, sustainable energy.

On Wednesday, Aug. 10, join Qun Liu of the U.S. Department of Energy's Brookhaven National Laboratory for the 528th Brookhaven Lecture. His talk, titled "Metals in Life: A Delicate Dance," will be held at 4 p.m. on Zoom.

Join the Zoom Meeting

During his talk, Liu will discuss two research techniques structural biologists use to understand how living organisms maintain sustainable concentrations of metals—what is termed metal homeostasis. The techniques Liu will highlight are X-ray crystallography, which is available at the National Synchrotron Light Source II (NSLS-II) at Brookhaven Lab, and cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM), available at the Laboratory for BioMolecular Structure (LBMS) adjacent to NSLS-II at Brookhaven Lab.

Liu will describe examples of specific metals that affect biological processes, including responses to stress, innate immunity, and the death of cells. He will also highlight recent work using cryo-EM at LBMS to help determine how the virus that causes COVID-19 wreaks havoc on human lungs.

About the Speaker

Qun Liu is a structural biologist at Brookhaven Lab and an adjunct professor at Stony Brook University.

Liu arrived at Brookhaven in 2009 as a scientist for the New York Structural Biology Center at the former National Synchrotron Light Source facility—predecessor to the current NSLS-II. He served as principal investigator, manager for synchrotron crystallography, and coordinator for research on membrane proteins before joining Brookhaven's Biology Department in 2015.

Liu joined the faculty at Stony Brook University's Department of Biochemistry and Structural Biology as an adjunct professor in 2018. He became an adjunct professor for Stony Brook's Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering in 2022.

Liu earned a Ph.D. in biophysics, with a minor in biochemistry, from Cornell University in 2006. He was a postdoctoral associate at the Cornell High Energy Synchrotron Source (CHESS) from 2006 to 2009. He earned a master's in biochemistry and cell biology from the University of Sciences and Technology of China in 2001 and a bachelor's in physics from Anhui University in China in 1998.

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