Research in Biochemistry

Biochemistry is the study of the chemical processes in living organisms. Modern biochemistry tries to answer questions that are related, for example, to the regulation of gene expression or the structure and function of cellular proteins. The research performed by the Biochemistry division in the University of Turku is focused on the structural and functional analysis of mammalian and bacterial proteins, enzymology, microbial molecular biology and immunochemistry.

Focus areas

Protein structure and function

For a protein to function, it has to fold correctly. For example, the side chains of amino acids corresponding to the activity of the enzyme should be located in just the right places in the folded protein. Thus, the function of many proteins can be investigated by solving its three-dimensional structure. Additionally, various binding experiments and activity assays can be used. The proteins can also be mutated and the effects of mutations examined at both molecular and cellular levels.

Interactions between cell and its environment

The cells sense various molecules of their environment through their receptors and change their activity according to these signals. Cells also produce different signal molecules and enzymes, thereby modifying their environment. For example, a cancer cell can secrete factors that accelerate the production and secretion of cancer-promoting proteins in normal cells. Immune cells have their own receptors to identify a foreign protein or microbe and cause immune response.

Research groups

Antibiotic Biosynthetic Enzymes (ABE)

Our research is focused on the chemical biology of bioactive secondary metabolites produced by different members of the bacterial genus Streptomyces. We study how these soil bacteria are able to synthesize highly complex natural products that are widely used in medicine, agriculture and other fields of commerce. Central areas of our research involve molecular genetics and natural product chemistry that are combined with protein chemistry and structural biology. Project Leaders: Mikko Metsä-Ketelä / Jarmo Niemi

Group web pages

Cell Adhesion and Cancer

Cancer progression involves uncontrolled proliferation and motility of cells. Integrins, transmembrane cell surface adhesion receptors, are proteins known to regulate cell behaviour by transducing extracellular signals to cytoplasmic protein complexes. We aim to understand the diverse biological roles of integrins in cancer.  Current projects focus on finding novel regulators of integrin activity, and endo/exosomal traffic, and on appreciating the mechanisms controlling tumour-stroma cross-talk, including how cancer cells sense key biophysical cues. We are also investigating signal integration and synergy between integrin regulatory pathways and oncogenic signalling axes in cancer.

Contact:  FICAN Professor Johanna Ivaska

Ivaska lab web page


Our environment contains a great variety of infectious microbes –viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and multicellular parasites. These can cause disease, and if they multiply unchecked they will eventually kill their host. Most infections in normal individuals are short-lived and leave little permanent damage. This is due to the immune system, which combats infectious agents. Since micro-organisms come in many different forms a wide variety of immune responses are required to deal with each type of infection. On the other hand, there are many beneficial commensal micro-organisms, which compete effectively with many potential pathogens.

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Contact: Dr. Jari Nuutila, Dr. Janne Atosuo

Interaction of Cells with Extracellular Matrix

Integrins are adhesion receptors that connect a cell to the extracellular matrix (ECM). Integrins play a crucial role in cell growth, development, motility, defense mechanisms, and apoptosis. The ECM consists of collagens and other structural macromolecules. We have focused our research on the regulation of ECM composition, particularly in cancer and adhesion receptor function. We also elucidate the biology of a little-known receptor called embigin. In addition to structural and cell biological methods, we use mass spectrometric analyzes and proteomics in our research.

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Contact: Prof. Jyrki Heino

Regulation of Eukaryotic Transcription (RET)

Cell employs RNA polymerase enzymes to read genomic information in response to its ever-changing needs. Our research focuses on RNA polymerase I (Pol I) that produces ribosomal RNA – the building block of cellular protein factories. Excessively active Pol I allows cancer cells to grow beyond normal controls. To understand how the function of Pol I is regulated in normal and sick cells, we investigate the molecular events that take place when Pol I begins the production of ribosomal RNA.

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Contact: Dr. Anssi malinen

RNA polymerase and Mechanism of Transcription

RNA polymerase is the enzyme that carries out the first step in gene expression, synthesis of RNA. We study RNA polymerase catalytic mechanism with emphasis on translocation, a step specific to processive polymerases and motor enzymes.

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Contact: Dr. Georgi Belogurov

Mechanisms of RNA Biogenesis and Regulation in Fungi

We study the molecular principles that govern RNA synthesis, processing, transport, and degradation. By using the budding yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae as a model, we explore how different RNA biogenesis machineries coordinate their activities and how cells detect and handle errors during RNA processing. Our research sheds light on eukaryotic RNA biogenesis and identifies fungal-specific gene expression pathways as potential targets for developing antifungal drugs. We expand our studies to Candida albicans and Aspergillus fumigatus, the two most prominent fungal pathogens causing disease in humans.

Turtola lab web page

Recent publications