Damien Wilburn

Mentor Faculty
Assistant Professor
Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry


Research Description:

In animals, reproduction-associated genes evolve at extraordinary rates often faster than immune genes resulting in tremendous diversity in molecular structure and function. Co-evolution of sperm and egg proteins contributes to species-specific gamete recognition, but the biophysical mechanisms of how gametes fuse with such exquisite specificity remain poorly defined. My laboratory studies the biochemistry of animal fertilization in three models: humans, lungless salamanders, and marine abalone. Each system offers unique experimental opportunities for understanding core mechanisms of animal fertilization, the evolution of reproductive barriers, and possible drivers of human infertility. For known reproductive proteins, biophysical properties and molecular interactions are studied using a range of biochemical tools including multidimensional NMR that can measure structural dynamics and weak binding interactions common to rapidly evolving proteins. But rapid sequence evolution challenges homology-based gene identification/annotation such that not all reproductive proteins have been identified, even in well-studied species like humans, and my laboratory uses mass spectrometry-based quantitative proteomics to identify candidate fertilization proteins. New software tools and statistical models are developed as needed for analyzing biophysical, mass spectrometry, and evolutionary genomic data.

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