Sensing the environment throughout evolution
Van Leeuwenhoek Lecture on BioScience.
Drinks after the lecture
Vera van Noort is professor of Computational Systems Biology at KU Leuven (Belgium). Her group is interested in understanding biological systems as a whole. This is achieved through computational analysis of large-scale data generated by the ever-growing number of new technologies that can systematically measure the behavior of multiple cellular components, such as biochemical activities, biophysical properties, subcellular localization and interaction. They use and develop new methods to integrate, visualize and query the large amounts of information available and in such a way come to new biological discoveries. Vera van Noort is program director of the master of Bioinformatics at KU Leuven and editor board member of Molecular and Cellular Proteomics and Bioinformatics. She is appointed holder of the rotating chair “van der Klaauw Professor” for the year 2015-2016 at the Institute of Biology. Holders of the chair bring inspiring research and teaching in theoretical biology to the University.
Cells have to continuously adapt their internal systems to the environment. Are sufficient nutrients available for growth; is there another cell that I need to communicate with; am I under attack; questions that often need to be answered quickly in order for an organism to be successful. These fast answers are provided by signaling mechanisms, modifications of proteins that can be reversed and that other proteins can read and respond to or that directly change the protein activity or function. We apply computational methods to study all aspects of these post-translational modifications. These methods can reveal when the modifying enzymes appear in evolution, but also the direct effect of these post-translational sequencing on the molecular functions of proteins. The explosion of genomic sequencing has enabled the large-scale computational analysis of protein sequence data that provides the raw material for our evolutionary studies. The technological advances in proteomics have provided a rich source of information on protein post-translational modifications that we exploit to further understand how organisms sense the environment.