Michael J. Harms, Ph.D.

Title
Assistant Professor
Department
Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Institute of Molecular Biology
Institution
University of Oregon
Address
1229 University of Oregon
205 Mudd Hall
City, State, Zip
Eugene, OR 97403
Phone
(541) 346-9002
E-mail
harms[at]uoregon.edu
Website
http://harmslab.uoregon.edu
Research Field
Evolutionary biology
Award Year
2015

Research

The goal of my research is to trace the evolution of a multifaceted protein by resurrecting and studying its molecular ancestors. The protein, named calprotectin, plays multiple roles in the human immune response: In addition to promoting inflammation, it thwarts infections by sopping up the metals microbes need to thrive. To determine how this one protein evolved to perform such different roles, I will use an approach based in biochemistry, biophysics, and molecular evolution to reconstruct the evolutionary precursors of the modern-day form of the calprotectin. I will synthesize these extinct proteins in the laboratory and examine their properties to determine when, during the course of its evolution, calprotectin acquired its diverse capabilities. In preliminary results, I have produced the most ancient, ancestral forms of calprotectin and have found that they don't display the antimicrobial activities of the present-day protein--a capability that must have evolved more recently. This work will help illuminate how immunity has evolved, and it could provide new strategies to design anti-inflammatory drugs.