Research in The Johnson Lab

Our research is focused on understanding how functional nucleic acids work. Nucleic acids are tremendously versatile molecules. Aside from their role in information storage and transfer, DNA and RNA play active roles as functional molecules. They can act as catalysts, participate in ligand binding and play a role as material for building nanoscale molecular devices. However, the details of how these types of molecules work is often not known. Their structures, how they interact with other molecules, how they fold into an active molecule are poorly understood.

We use nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) to determine the three-dimensional structure of molecules and isothermal titration calorimetry (ITC) to study binding interactions. As a model system for discovering how functional nucleic acids work, my laboratory is currently investigating how the cocaine-binding DNA aptamer operates.