Institute of biophysics (IBF)

Research activities


Membrane processes in communication within and between cells.
Research team leader: Dr. Armando Carpaneto
IBF Genova
Investigation of membrane proteins and integration of classical techniques such as electrophysiology, biochemistry and molecular biology with new experimental approaches, such as atomic force and confocal microscopy, in order to determine protein structure and function, to study cellular interactions at the micro- and nano-meter molecular level, to characterize the response of cells/organisms to abiotic and biotic stress, to elaborate protocols for biomonitoring, to study the properties of membrane biocompatibility, and to develop biomaterials and biodevices.

Biomolecular aggregation processes
Research team leader: Dr. Pier Luigi San Biagio
IBF Palermo
Mechanisms of biomolecular aggregation (crystallization, glass transition, coagulation, etc.). Mechanisms of formation of amyloid fibrils (conformational changes, nucleation, elongation, role of solvent). Thermodynamic and conformational stability of proteins in solution (common pathways leading to different biologically relevant structures, role of phase transitions and critical fluctuations). Mechanism of biopolymeric gelation (relation between gelation mechanism and mechanical properties, control and characterization of biopolymeric materials). Drug delivery systems (relation between structural and release properties in biopolymer structures). Effect of natural product-derived compounds (polyphenols, curcumin, triterpenes, etc.) on protein bioactivity and aggregation.
Modelling of structure and dynamics in complex systems.

Modelling of structure and dynamics in complex systems
Research team Leader: Dr. Michele Migliore
IBF Pisa, IBF Palermo, IBF Genova
Biophysical modeling of the mechanisms underlying physiological and pathological processes in learning, memory, and higher brain functions. Modeling of calcium dynamics. Nonlinear analysis of biological signals; modeling of stem cell populations. Study of ventricular tachyarrhythmias from patients with implantable cardioverter defibrillators. Development of an information theory based on geometric and topologic methods with applications to optics. Meromorphic continuation and interpolation of complex functions. Complex angular momentum in physics.

Plant bioenergetics and molecular biology
Research team leader: Dr. Giuseppe Zucchelli
IBF Milano
Characterization of native and reconstituted photosynthetic complexes. Thermodynamics of photosynthesis; role of structure, antenna size and inter-chlorophyll-complex interaction on the rate of photochemistry. Analysis of mutants of respiratory and photosynthetic electron transport. Photoinhibition. Regulation of Ca2+ATPase and H+ATPase in the plasma membrane: molecular mechanisms and physiological role. Molecular basis of barium blockage in Kcv potassium channel; measurement and analysis of Kcv single-channel current; purification of Kcv membrane protein. Biotechnology applied to biodiversity preservation; plants as bioreactors. Control of biogenesis of organelles during embryo development.
Study of protein structure-function relationship, through X-ray crystallography, on enzymes involved in viral replication, inhibitor of apoptosis proteins and proteins involved in different human diseases. Identification and characterization of protein inhibitors, to be developed as novel drugs, using molecular dynamics and in silico docking.

Protein structure and dynamics
Research team leader: Dr. Edi Gabellieri
IBF Pisa
Studies on structure-dynamics-function relationships in proteins using Trp emission spectroscopies (fluorescence and phosphorescence). Characterization of the effect of the environment (homogeneous solutions, additives, interfaces, biomedical devices), chemical modification and extreme conditions of temperature, pressure and water activity (ice, dehydration) on the native structure and biological activity of these macromolecules.
Studies on the impact of emerging pollutants such as engineered nanoparticles on the environment. Characterization of protein structure changes eventually induced by interaction with nanoparticles for assessing the biological risks related to the use of nanomaterials. Identification of molecular biomarkers of changes due to exposure to environmental stress by applying proteomic techniques.

Molecular mechanisms of membrane permeability
Research team leader: Dr. Carla Marchetti
IBF Genova
Ion channels and transporters are studied at the cellular level in native cell preparations, at the single molecule level in heterologous expression systems as well as in reconstituted artificial systems (liposomes). Major focuses are: CNS neurotransmitter receptors (glutamate and GABA); the epithelial Cl- channel CFTR, that is mutated in cystic fibrosis; CLC Cl- channels and Cl-/H+ antiporters, which are mutated in several diseases; voltage-dependent Na+ channels, mutated in neurological and cardiac disorders; voltage-dependent Ca channels and their role in cancer proliferation. Chief methods employed are patch-clamp recording, microspectrofluorimetry, atomic force microscopy, cell biology and toxicology methods, mutagenesis, biochemistry, molecular biology, recombinant protein purification, structural biology and molecular modelling.

Biomolecules and biodevices
Research team leader: Dr. Paolo Gualtieri
IBF Pisa
Primary photoevents in photoreceptive processes in algae; isolation and over expression of photoreceptive proteins for the fabrication of biomolecular electronic devices. Set-ups and applications in digital Microscopy for in vivo microspectroscopy and time elapsed sequences; probiotics from algae for diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and for improving skin function and texture; heavy metal screening in water bodies by means of microalgae.

Biological membranes, macromolecular complexes and biomolecular imaging
Research team leader: Dr. Mauro Dalla Serra
IBF Trento
Pore-Forming Toxins and AntiMicrobial Peptides, are mainly bacterial toxins relevant for human health, and constitute the weapons for attack or defense. They are excellent archetypal model systems of understanding the key aspects of protein-protein and protein-lipid interactions. Molecular imaging is a new integrative discipline that enables non invasive investigation of cellular functions and molecular processes in vivo under physiological or pathological conditions. We focus on the development of new biosensors for monitoring selectively specific cellular functions and pathways. Photosensory biophysics of microbial, visual and nonvisual opsins - The main goal is to identify and characterize new types or mutants of channelrhodopsins, a new family of proteins acting jointly as photoreceptors and ion channels, for optogenetic applications. Superstructural organization of polysomes - the most common and complex eukaryotic cytoplasmic machinery related to the translational control of gene-expression - is carried out by using different nanoresolution imaging approaches to reveal the structural and functional details of translation.

Biophysics and molecular biology in environmental processes
Research team leader: Dr. Elisabetta Morelli
IBF Pisa
The Research Group studies environmental processes by using a biophysical approach, in order to understand the effects of human activity on living organisms and on the environment. Main research activities: 1) Study of the carbon cycle in the sea, with particular attention to the dynamics of dissolved organic matter that, being one of the largest reserves of organic carbon present on the surface of the Earth, plays an important role in regulating the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere; 2) Analysis and validation of radar altimeter data to monitor water levels from space; 3) Identification of cellular and molecular biomarkers in plants (unicellular algae and higher plants) in response to exposure to environmental stress: antioxidant enzymatic activity, measurement of lipid peroxidation, induction of phytochelatins, variation of the protein pattern. Particular attention is paid to the environmental impact of emerging pollutants, deriving from nanotechnology.