Inorganic Seminar- Prof. Amy Palmer (University of Colorado- Boulder)

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1315 Seminar Hall, North Tower
@ 3:30 pm

(Photo by Patrick Campbell/University of Colorado)

Prof. Amy Palmer

Title: Illuminating the biochemistry of zinc in living cells


There are over two thousand proteins encoded by the human genome that bind zinc, where zinc binding is predicted to be essential for function. At the cellular level zinc is important for DNA synthesis, cell proliferation, differentiation, and apoptosis. Given the importance of Zn2+ in cell biology and human health, it is astounding that we still don’t understand the mechanisms of how Zn2+ levels and dynamics impact basic cellular functions and give rise to disease. Our lab has developed a suite of genetically encoded fluorescent sensors for Zn2+ and has used these sensors to quantify Zn2+ in different organelles in mammalian cells. Our results reveal that the labile Zn2+ pool is very low (hundreds of pM in the cytosol) but that cells experience Zn2+ dynamics and fluxes in response to cellular processes and environmental perturbations. Although the conventional view of Zn2+ in biology is that it is constitutively and stably bound to the proteins that comprise the zinc proteome, there is growing evidence that the proteome may sense and respond to Zn2+ dynamics in cells. This talk will focus on our discoveries that Zn2+ dynamics profoundly influence fundamental cellular processes such as gene expression, interactions between transcription factors and chromatin, and the mammalian cell cycle.


Amy Palmer received her B.A. in Chemistry from Dartmouth College in 1994, an M.A. in Education from Stanford University in 2000, and a PhD in Chemistry from Stanford University in 2001 where she worked with Professor Edward Solomon on the electronic structure of multicopper oxidases. From 2001-2005, Dr. Palmer was an NIH-postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Nobel laureate Roger Y. Tsien at UCSD. She is currently a Professor in the Department of Biochemistry and BioFrontiers Institute, where she has been since 2005. The Palmer lab develops new technologies to study the biochemistry of living cells to understand how specific proteins, molecules, and ions contribute to cellular function. Professor Palmer is also passionate about teaching and has developed new courses in General Chemistry, Physical Chemistry, and Biochemistry. These efforts focus on engaging students in research, active learning, and promoting critical thinking and analytical reasoning. Professor Palmer strongly values mentoring, and has trained 14 postdocs, 22 graduate students and 45+ undergraduates. Professor Palmer is the recipient of a Sloan Foundation Research Fellowship (2010, Chemistry), NSF CAREER award (2010), Ed Stiefel Young Investigator Award in Biological Inorganic Chemistry (2010), NIH Director’s Pioneer Award (2014), Chancellor’s Award for Teaching Excellence (2016), Beckman Center Award for Light Sheet Microscopy and Data Science (2021), Cogswell Award for Inspirational Teaching (2024). She is on the editorial board of Cell Chemical Biology and and Biochemistry.

Keywords: Fluorescence, Microscopy, Biosensor, FRET

Host: Prof. Thomas Brunold