Research Goal: Our goal is to understand how complex systems, including proteins, networks and organisms, originate and evolve new functions. A better understanding of adaptive molecular evolution could teach us how life began, how it works today and how it could be improved in the future.
General Problem: The emergent of properties of complex systems are determined by the interactions among their components. In the case of proteins, a subtle change in the chemical environment or a single deleterious mutation can disrupt the conformation and activity of the whole molecule. Proteins are holons, which means that they appear to be complete but are actually components are larger systems. The fragility of complex systems, and their tendency to interact with other systems, complicates efforts to design new systems (pictures above were borrowed from http://www.lce.hut.fi/publications/annual2004/fig43.jpg; http://devcell.bio.uci.edu/images/DROSOPHILA.gif).
Strategy: Nature manages protein complexity through the process of molecular evolution. We address evolutionary questions (red bubbles) by formulating specific hypotheses and devising experimental tests (green bubbles).
Organization: Students develop into scientists as they study the literature, learn experimental techniques, formulate their own hypotheses and design their own experiments. Post-doctoral fellows develop into independent investigators by identifying an important scientific question or engineering problem, developing new tools and communicating their accomplishments to prospective employers.