Investigating the Mechanisms by which Proteins Switch their Three-Dimensional Structures

Dissertation Summary

Proteins are the machinery of the cell that carry out the processes necessary to sustain life. The unique 3-dimensional structures of proteins are crucial for their specific functions in the cell. The goal of my research is to understand the fundamental properties of protein structure and determine experimentally the mutations in protein sequence and environmental factors that can trigger large-scale changes in its 3-dimensional structure. To accomplish this, I’m investigating the mechanisms by which two proteins with high sequence identity, but different 3-dimensional structures and functions, can flip from one structural state to another in response to change in sequence and environment such as temperature.

My research addresses a fundamental question of how protein sequence codes for the 3-dimesiontal structure of protein. This work also provides a framework for understanding the evolution of new functional proteins from existing ones in response to mutations and environmental triggers. Results from this project will have relevance to developing improved computational protein structure prediction programs, understanding the evolution of protein structures, enhancing protein engineering approaches, and interpreting mutations in some human diseases.


Tsega Solomon is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Maryland College Park. She has a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from the University of Virginia. Tsega does research in structural biology and is interested in investigating the malleability of proteins’ three-dimensional structures. The National Institute of Standard and Technology (NIST) and the University of Maryland (UMD) awarded Tsega the Dolphus E. Milligan Graduate Fellowship in 2014 when she began her doctoral study. Tsega also received a Summer Research Fellowship and a Hockmeyer Fellowship Award from the University of Maryland in 2017 and 2018, respectively; in 2017, the Graduate School of the University of Maryland recognized her with an Outstanding Graduate Assistant Award; and she also received a Sampugna-Keeney Travel Award from the UMD Biochemistry Program to attend and present her research at the Gordon Research Conference of Protein Folding Dynamic in January of 2018.