Research | Queen’s University Canada

Zongchao Jia

Zongchao Jia

Uncovering the structure and function of protein phosphorylation systems in bacteria: this research will lead to new understanding of the biochemical reactions that take place in bacteria and could lead to the development of new antibiotics.

[Dr. Zongchao Jia]
Canada Research Chair in Structural Biology
Tier 1

Exploring Chemical Reactions in Bacteria

Chemical reactions are taking place deep within the cellular structure of living organisms. These reactions control biological events and are part of the processes that regulate metabolism, gene expression, and cell division, as well as growth, development, locomotion, learning, and memory.

Proteins in living cells "talk" to each other in order to achieve many cellular functions. One of the most common forms of communication in all organisms consists of adding or removing phosphate groups to proteins. Protein phosphorylation – the addition of a phosphate to a protein – is a critically important regulatory mechanism. Much like attaching a switch to a light bulb, addition of a phosphate group to a protein can turn the protein on or off and triggers its biological activity. While protein phosphorylation has been extensively studied in mammals, research lags in lower organisms such as bacteria.

Dr. Zongchao Jia, Canada Research Chair in Structural Biology, has been examining the bacteria E. coli tyrosine kinase (Etk) which is involved in cell surface protection.

Jia is using crystallography, a powerful technique that can provide direct visualization of the three-dimensional structure of a protein. Based on the "picture" he obtains, Jia is able to uncover important functional insights into Etk. Jia is also studying a unique bi-functional bacterial enzyme that enables bacterial growth in a low-nutrient environment.

Jia’s research will improve knowledge of key enzymes that are uniquely found in bacteria and which may have potential for the development of selective antibiotics in the future.