Mura Lab

at the University of Virginia

Brief overview...


The Mura Lab employs both experimental and computational approaches to understand the structure, function/dynamics, and evolution of RNA– and DNA–based protein assemblies. In particular, we seek a deeper understanding of ribonucleoprotein (RNP) assemblies built upon a scaffold of 'Sm' proteins — What these protein/RNA complexes look like at atomic resolution (structure), their assembly pathways and dynamical behavior (function), and the interrelationships between Sm and Sm-like systems (evolution).

Sm proteins were discovered as the antigens in the autoimmune disease lupus, and are now known to form a broad, evolutionarily-conserved family that plays pivotal roles in most aspects of RNA metabolism (including mRNA splicing), as well as in bacterial cell···cell communication networks (“quorum sensing”). Sm-based complexes such as the ‘spliceosome’ exceed the ribosome in terms of both size and architectural complexity, thereby providing an immensely rich area for ongoing studies. Current work focuses on Sm systems drawn from both a well-established context (splicing) and a more recently emerging area (quorum sensing) that is of major biomedical significance because of its involvement in biofilm-mediated bacterial pathogenesis. The research program being developed to pursue this work is necessarily highly interdisciplinary, relying particularly heavily on methodologies from structural biology (e.g., crystallography), bioinformatics (e.g., statistical and phylogenetic methods for protein family analysis), and computational biochemistry (e.g., molecular dynamics simulations), in addition to traditional wet-lab biochemistry.

A more graphical summary of our chief interests and approaches: