Research Fellows Directory
Dr Janet Lovett
University of St Andrews
Magnetic resonance spectroscopy is able to probe the energy levels of nuclei and electrons by measuring the way that they absorb electromagnetic waves. This provides information on the nature and environment of the atom or electron. This is the background for how magnetic resonance imaging, MRI scanners, in hospitals work.
I am interested in probing the energy levels of electrons using electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) spectroscopy. Moreover, I am not looking at conducting materials but instead proteins and nucleic acids (DNA, RNA) that are mostly silent to the EPR method. However, if a single electron (a paramagnet) can be added to them, or is already present naturally, then EPR can look specifically at it. This is very valuable for understanding how proteins such as enzymes function since often these will go through paramagnetic states. A stable paramagnet can also be added to a specific area of interest and this is called a spin label. Spin labels can be used to give information on the environment or EPR can be used to measure distances in the 1 to 10 nm range between pairs of labels. This is a crucial range for understanding the structure of a protein, and importantly how that structure might alter during function, since many other techniques cannot get fine detail in this range. I apply this method to look at biological systems but also advance the method through further development of the spin labels.
I work with biologists to make sure that the systems that we are asking, and answering, the most important questions. From seeing where the currently methodology is limited for applications to real proteins I am able to find improvements. For example, it is clear that a large number of proteins that could otherwise be well investigated by EPR are not currently amenable to having the spin label added and therefore cannot be probed. I am currently working on ways to improve this situation. These methods could then be adopted by scientists elsewhere.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)