Opening Lecture - Membrane Biophysics


Membrane lipidomics at the nexus of biophysics and cell physiology

Dr. Ilya Levental’s began his academic career as an engineer, earning a BS in Chemical Engineering at Georgia Tech while doing research on nanobiotechnology. His excitement about the intersection of engineering and biology led him to a PhD in Bioengineering from the University of Pennsylvania, where his interest in the molecular mechanisms and biological role of membrane structure developed in the laboratory of Dr. Paul Janmey. Dr. Levental’s postdoctoral research focused on the structural factors determining protein partitioning between coexisting domains in isolated plasma membranes. An independently conceived project led to a prestigious postdoctoral funding grant through the Humboldt Foundation in Germany, with the research being conducted in Dr. Kai Simons’ lab at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics.

The long-term interest of the Levental laboratory is to define the composition-structure-function axis of biological membranes, and how manipulations of these parameters affect health and disease. To this end, my lab has developed a broad conceptual and methodological toolbox to explore the composition of mammalian membranes, how this is affected by dietary and metabolic inputs, the contribution of lipids and proteins to membrane organization, and the interplay between membrane structure and cellular physiology. Our investigations use a nexus of approaches, spanning from computer simulations, to model and cell-derived plasma membranes, and ultimately to cell biology in situ and organismal physiology in vivo.

Due to their unique properties, the study of biological membranes inherently requires a multidisciplinary approach, which is supported by the broad educational and cultural backgrounds of members of the Levental lab. This diversity of approaches has led to consistent productivity of funding and publication. In 9 years, our lab has published ~40 papers (30 as corresponding author), several of which were highlighted as cover articles (JBC, Nature Protocols, Nature Review Molecular Cell Biology, and PNAS).

In total Dr Levental has published ~50 primary research manuscripts and 16 invited reviews/book chapters, for an H-index of 40. The research program is supported by major grants through the USA NIH, Volkswagen Foundation, and the Human Frontiers Science Program.