Sofia works at Aarhus University, Denmark.
Her PhD subject is Crystallization and phase behavior of membrane transporters in lipid-detergent micelles.
Tell us about yourself
I was born and raised in Athens, Greece. Being an excited and naturally curious person, I consider Physics to be the most intriguing field of research as it addresses a huge range of phenomena, from the nanoscale physics to the laws of the infinite universe. My innate passion to discover the world and my need to work towards finding ways to improve people’s wellbeing led me to pursue my studies in biophysics. I got my BSc degree in Physics, section of solid state and condensed matter physics, National Kapodistrian University of Athens. I completed my MSc in Microsystems and Nanodevices of National Technical University of Athens. As part of these degrees, I collaborated with PANalytical company, University of Patras and the Theoretical and Physical Chemistry Institute of National Hellenic Research Foundation. My scientific interests currently are protein and neurotransmitter crystallography, the application of quantum computers to the problem of protein folding and the relationship between quantum mechanics and brain.
Fine arts are vital for my everyday life. On my leisure time I like cooking, sewing clothes and costumes, painting, playing board games with friends, writing poems and exercising.
Why are you interested in science?
Science is knowledge. It gives answers for almost everything that surrounds us. Since I was a kid, I wanted to understand and explain nature. The more you work into a scientific laboratory, the more you are getting attracted by the beauty of discovering the well-hidden nature secrets. Science is also a weapon against diseases, physiological problems, poverty, and hunger. Technological achievements, most of the cases, improve the quality of our life and help us evolve even further. For me science is a fundamental part of my life and my goal is to expand my knowledge and understanding of biological systems from a Physics perspective and to contribute by studying biophysical systems.
Tell us about your PhD project
This PhD project is focusing on the biophysical properties and phase behavior involved in membrane protein crystallization in lipid-detergent micelles using a so-called HILIDE method.
Membrane transport proteins (transporters) are integral to cell membranes and transfer vital nutrients, ions and metabolites from the interior of the cell outside and vice versa. In order to study their function, we must get insight into their structure. This is primarily achieved by X-ray crystallography, which obviously requires crystals. However, protein crystallization, and not least for membrane proteins, is not a routine procedure. Protein purification first of all is crucial for obtaining crystals and it must achieve not only chemical purity but also conformational homogeneity of the sample. There are many ways to crystallize proteins, and referring to membrane proteins, the HiLiDe method is an important method that we would like to understand and use even better. In this method we use detergent-solubilized protein and lipids in the crystallization so we can ‘simulate’ the natural environment of a membrane protein.
In my PhD project I will primarily work on the amino acid transporter MhsT and later also the sarco/endoplasmic reticulum Ca2+-ATPase (SERCA), and we will try to get a good control and understanding of the conditions to obtain well-diffracting crystals. We will investigate lipid-detergent behavior comparing e.g. crystallogenic and non-crystallogenic conditions of MhsT and SERCA using small-angle X-ray scattering and diffraction, isothermal calorimetry, light microscopy, and electron microscopy. The effect of particular additives such as immersion oil, tertiary butanol, and glycerol that empirically are known to affect HILIDE crystallization significantly will be also, investigated.
Further goals of this project is to rationally design HiLiDe screens incorporating crystallogenic phase behavior. We will also try to crystallize a eukaryotic neurotransmitter transmitter and solve its structure using the rationales developed.
What do you or did you enjoy most until now in your position within RAMP network? Why ?
So far, what I have really enjoyed is the collaboration with the other members of the RAMP network. It is amazing how people with different backgrounds can collaborate to achieve an ultimate goal. The combination of our backgrounds and personalities to the general RAMP project is very promising for structural biology. I feel very proud and grateful for the opportunity to participate in such a great community!