Huong T. Kratochvil, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor @ UNC-CH Chemistry
Education and Training
Postdoctoral Training - University of California, San Francisco
NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Fellow (NIGMS, 2020 - )
NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA F32 Postdoctoral Fellow (NIGMS, 2017 - 2020)
Ph.D. - University of Wisconsin-Madison
B.S. - The University of Texas at Austin
Where I am from:
The University of Texas at Austin
University of Wisconsin-Madison
University of California, San Francisco
San Francisco, California
As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, Huong has always dreamed of being a doctor. That dream quickly came crashing down after several rotations at a local hospital as a high school intern as she found that she didn't have the stomach for the job. She still wanted to work in the medical field and help people, so she thought she'd try pharmacy instead. Thus, began her journey through undergrad as a chemistry and pre-pharmacy major.
She soon came to the realization in the third year of her studies at the University of Texas at Austin that she was in love with chemistry. This passion was ignited in her Quantum Mechanics and Spectroscopy class: everything finally made sense! After talking to her professor and finding out about graduate school, she made it her mission to get her PhD in physical chemistry. With the help of the McNair Scholars Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program at UT-Austin, she connected with Prof. Lauren Webb and started her research career. Her work on the synthesis of a non-hydrolyzable GTP analog for vibrational Stark effect spectroscopy got her excited about vibrational spectroscopy, so she applied to graduate school determined to use spectroscopy to study proteins.
As a graduate student, she joined Prof. Martin Zanni's lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and applied two-dimensional infrared (2D IR) spectroscopy to explore complex biophysical phenomena like ion transport and amyloid aggregation. In combining techniques like protein semisynthesis, molecular dynamics (MD) simulations, and ultrafast spectroscopy, she was able to address questions of ion binding within the narrowest regions of a potassium ion channel and helped define a short-lived intermediate in the aggregation pathway of amylin. It was towards the end of her PhD where she declared her love for membrane proteins and would switch fields to membrane protein biophysics as a postdoc.
She made the move in 2016 to the University of California, San Francisco to work with Prof. William DeGrado on proton transport across membranes. Initially, she was interested in looking at these proton transport mechanisms using the natural Influenza A M2 proton channel as her model system. She was awarded the NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA F32 Fellowship to pursue these questions through a combination of biophysics, biochemistry, and structural biology. Later in her postdoc, she turned to protein design as a tool to answer these questions of proton transport. She was able to design minimalist proton channels to test a once-elusive hypothesis of proton channel function, and has designed other functional ion channels that give insight into the roles of apolar packing and hydrogen bonding in membrane protein assembly and function. This work was supported by her NIH Pathway to Independence K99/R00 award, which will help her get started as a new PI at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Taking her passions for membrane protein structure and function with her to her new lab at UNC-CH, she will continue to address fundamental questions through a combination of biophysics and protein design. She is also excited about pushing the boundaries of protein design to develop new proteins for applications in environmental sustainability and human health.