Elizabeth Villa, Ph.D.
Molecular Biology in the Division of Biological Sciences
University of California, San Diego
To perform their function, biological systems need to operate across multiple scales. Current techniques in structural and cellular biology lack either the resolution or the context to observe the structure of individual biomolecules in their natural environment, and are often hindered by artifacts. Our goal is to build tools that can reveal molecular structures in their native cellular environment. Using the power of cryo-electron tomography to image biomolecules at molecular resolution in situ, we are building tools to make compatible with, and directly comparable to, biophysical and cell biology experiments, capturing the structural behavior of macromolecules in action under controlled conditions. I will show how we used these techniques to reveal the structure of LRRK2, the greatest known genetic contributor to Parkinson’s disease, and to unveil the molecular architecture of processes in bacterial cell biology.
Elizabeth Villa, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Molecular Biology in the Division of Biological Sciences at the University of California San Diego. She completed her PhD in Biophysics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign as a Fulbright Fellow. She was a Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow in the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Munich. She was recruited to UC San Diego in 2014. Dr. Villa was the recipient of an NIH Director’s New Innovator Award to pursue high-risk high-reward research developing cryo-electron tomography (cryo-ET) and new technological and computational techniques to advance structural cell biology. She was named a Pew Scholar in 2017, and she was selected to become a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator in 2021.