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Professor Tong Talks On the Importance of Enzymes Against Human Diseases

Professor Tong Talks On the Importance of Enzymes Against Human Diseases

The Durban University of Technology (DUT’s) Executive Dean in the Faculty of Applied Sciences, Professor Suren Singh hosted a lecture by Professor Liang Tong titled: Allosteric Regulation of Metabolic Enzymes for Drug Discovery, at Steve Biko Campus on Thursday, 16 January 2020.

Professor Tong, who is the Chairperson of the Department of Biological Sciences at Columbia University, explored his current research which focuses on enzymes involved in fatty acid metabolism, including Acetyl-CoA carboxylase, carnitine acyltransferase, AMP-activated protein kinase, and others.

At the lecture, he stressed that these enzymes are important targets for drug discovery against obesity, diabetes and other human diseases.

“A major health problem affecting developing countries in obesity. Most of the population is overweight and this is associated with diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other health problems (metabolic syndrome),” said Prof Tong.

He added that the goal of his research is to also produce structural information on these enzymes and to understand their functions at the molecular level, and the structural information will also lay the foundation for drug discovery against these targets.

Prof Tong further looked delved into another area of his research on proteins involved in pre-mRNA 3′-end processing.

“Most eukaryotic mRNA precursors must undergo cleavage and polyadenylation in their 3′-ends before they can function as mRNAs. This processing machinery contains more than 16 protein factors, which form several sub-complexes (CPSF, CSTF). The goal of my research is to understand the molecular basis of this important event,” he said.

Also as part of his research, Professor Tong further participated in the solving of the structures of proteins and protein complexes including, but not limited to, the heterotrimer core of Saccharomyces cerevisiae AMPK homologue SNF1, 5’-3’ exoribonucleaseRat1 and its activating partner Rai1, the a6b6 holoenzyme of propionyl-coenzyme A carboxylase, human symplekin-Ssu72-CTD phosphopeptide complex, histone mRNA stem-loop, human stem-loop binding protein and 3’hExo ternary complex, human phosphofructokinase-1, and the 500-kDa yeast acetyl-CoA carboxylase holoenzyme dimerusing X-ray crystallography.


Professor Tong is a dedicated and productive protein crystallographer, he has done robust research in the field of Biochemistry and structural biology. He obtained his PhD (Biophysical Chemistry with focus on protein crystallography) in the United States at the University of California Berkeley in 1989.

He started his career working in Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Ridgefield, Connecticut, working as a senior scientist from 1992 to 1995, and as a principal scientist from 1996 to 1997. In 1997, Professor Tong was offered a faculty appointment at the Department of Biological Sciences, Columbia University. He has been the department chair of the Department of Biological Sciences since 2013, and was recently named the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor in 2015. Until July 2018, Liang has published 239 papers and 38 reviews/book chapters.

Pictured: Professor Liang Tong delivering his lecture on how enzymes are important targets for drug discovery against human diseases.

Nomfundo Ngcobo

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