Inside Rensselaer
George Makhatadze Joins Biocomputation and Bioinformatics Constellation
* George Makhatadze

George Makhatadze is a designer. But instead of expensive jeans and haute handbags, he is using extremely powerful computers to create custom proteins that could improve everything from medication to detergent. Makhatadze is bringing his expertise in biology, chemistry, and computation to Rensselaer as a chaired professor in the Biocomputation and Bioinformatics research constellation in the Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.

Makhatadze joins Senior Biocomputation and Bioinformatics Constellation Chair and renowned theoretical physicist Angel García to help guide research in biocomputation and bioinformatics at Rensselaer. Research within the constellation combines the power of modern computing with biotechnology, providing researchers with the reams of data that they need to understand how genes and proteins function.

Makhatadze is a biophysical chemist who has published more than 80 scientific papers on his research. He comes to Rensselaer from Penn State University College of Medicine, where he served as a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and directed a graduate program in chemical biology for eight years.

He received a bachelor’s in physics from Georgia State University and a doctorate in biochemistry and biophysics from the Institute of Protein Research in Moscow, Russia. He performed his postdoctoral research at the Johns Hopkins University and later joined the faculty of Texas Tech University before joining Penn State in 1999.

At Rensselaer, Makhatadze’s research will focus on using extremely powerful computers, including the newly open Computational Center for Nanotechnology Innovations (CCNI), to design stable custom proteins.

“Proteins are very unstable and are unfolding and changing over time as they are impacted by heat, pressure, ionic composition, and other conditions,” Makhatadze said. “We will use different computational approaches and experimental methods to understand what makes protein enzymes stable and how we can use that knowledge to make them more resistant to external conditions.”

Proteins’ unruly nature makes their use in modern applications such as nanomaterials and medicine extremely difficult. Makhatadze’s research strives to
pinpoint ways to chemically alter proteins so that they remain stable over a long period of time even after exposure to extreme conditions. Stable proteins have wide implications for use as organic compounds in environmentally friendly cleaning products, for safely bleaching paper, and developing high-performance biosensors.

In addition, stable proteins have broad implications in the development of new medicines and antibodies.

“Understanding how to create stable proteins at the beginning of the drug discovery process will save drug researchers billions of dollars,” Makhatadze said.

In addition to his protein research, Makhatadze will be teaching. He sees a strong role for students, particularly undergraduates, in research. “Undergraduates are a very important resource in the lab and I would greatly like to include them in my lab, publishing papers and performing research.”

Makhatadze is on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Biochemica et Biophysica Acta, and Protein Engineering, Design and Selection. He is a member of the American Chemical Society, the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Biophysical Society, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, and the Protein Society.

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 1, Number 4, September 27, 2007
©2007 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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