Molecular Evolution – Structural Enzymology – Molecular Recognition and Promiscuity – Molecular Design – Bioremediation – Origin of Life – Extremophiles.
Ph.D., Aix-Marseille University, France, 2009
FEBS Fellow (2009-2010), Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel
Marie Curie fellow (2010-2012), Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel
Mikael Elias is interested in evolution and molecular interactions – how biomolecules fulfill their roles and how they evolve towards new functions. In particular, Elias studies microbial enzymes and systems that have the potential to address industrial needs or that may be useful for bio-remediation. The Lab is interested in the cellular phosphate uptake mechanism. Phosphate is an essential nutrient, a key component of biological molecules such as DNA. Organisms such as bacteria or plants developed sophisticated systems that are capable of importing the necessary phosphate from extreme, depleted environments. The cellular needs for phosphate being huge, the environmental concentration is a key stimuli that modulates the growth and numerous biological functions, including growth, phosphate accumulation and bacterial virulence. Elias also focuses on a bacterial communication system dubbed quorum sensing, mediated by signaling molecules such as acyl homoserine lactones. This system is used by bacteria to coordinate gene expression and adapt to environmental changes. The study of lactonases (i.e. enzymes that hydrolyze lactones) revealed that these enzymes have the ability to quench the quorum sensing, thereby inhibiting the expression of virulence factors and the formation of biofilms in some pathogenic strains. Additionally, such lactonases are endowed with the promiscuous ability of hydrolyzing organophosphorous insecticides. Laboratory improvements using structure-based, combinatorial libraries, of their phosphotriesterases activity is expected to deliver soft, ecological solutions to decontaminate organophosphorous insecticides.