Life is not static and neither are the majority of proteins crucial to the function of our cells. However, our structural understanding of these microscopic machines is often limited to one or at best few static snap-shots.
Welcome to the Behrmann Lab
We focus on the application of electron microscopy (EM) to visualize such dynamic entities in their native-like environment in order to deduce the structural pathways at the heart of biological processes. Different from e.g. protein crystallization, EM allows for the rapid trapping of intermediate states by either vitrification (“snap freezing”) or by chemical crosslinking in heavy metal stains. Trapped structures can then be determined to high resolution, visualizing key structural transitions required for the mode of action of the protein studied.
Our main interest is in proteins interacting with lipid membranes of the cell. These membranes constitute the barrier between “life and death”, as they are paramount to the distinction between self and non-self (that is they separate the cell from its surrounding environment). In higher organisms, internal lipid membranes furthermore enable the compartmentalization of reactions. A host of proteins is required to shape these membranes, maintain their identity and allow controlled passage over these biological barriers. The structural basis for these functions is however still largely lacking, especially with regard to dynamic processes.
You can find further information about our work and our home institute on the caesar homepage.