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Chemistry & Life Sciences

The interface between chemistry and biology is a leading frontier for scientific discovery in the 21st century. Research in chemical biology answers fundamental questions such as the sequencing of the human genome, and it addresses practical challenges in the pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology, environmental science, law enforcement and medicine. Chemistry is the central science in important problems in biochemistry and molecular biology, and good science in these areas requires a full command and understanding of the biological systems under study at the molecular level. A corollary of this is that the scientists who can use the tools of chemistry to understand and manipulate biological processes have a distinct advantage in the laboratory and in the development of future technologies.

The opportunities and excitement of the chemistry/biology interface have attracted the attention of many of the UT chemistry faculty, primarily in two fields: organic synthesis and analytical chemistry. In the former area, major projects include the design and synthesis of antiviral and anticancer compounds; the development of physiologically active agents containing NMR-active nuclei for use in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); the incorporation of radioactive nuclei for monitoring physiological processes in vivo; the synthesis of natural products that have potential use in the treatment of cancer, and the development of solid-phase combinatorial synthetic methods. In the analytical area, significant activity centers on the development of separation methods (HPLC and CE) for the analysis and purification of biologically important compounds; the application of electrospray mass spectroscopy to study the structure of proteins and protein aggregates; the development of capillary electrophoretic methods to analyze biological nanostructures and study enzyme inhibition; the development of spectroscopic techniques for high throughput screening of pharmaceuticals; the development of microcantilever-based sensors to analyze biological molecules; and the development of laser-induced crystallization of proteins for structural studies. A fundamental project in this area is a study of the origin of chirality in the universe.

Cooperative links exist with collaborators in industry other UT departments and centers and Oak Ridge National Laboratory. These include: the Center for Environmental Biotechnology, the Center of Excellence in Structural Biology, the Genome Science and Technology School, the UT Department of Biochemistry and Cellular and Molecular Biology, the Biotechnology Center in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, the UT Medical Center, and the Life Sciences Division at ORNL.