Robert Levenson, PhD
My research focuses on understanding the molecular principles behind how proteins and other biological molecules assemble to form intricate structures and accomplish their adaptive functions. The systems I have worked on, ranging from self-repairing bacterial rotary motors to flexible iridescent nanostructures within the skin cells of squid and octopuses, reflects the diversity of functions for which life has used proteins. I am also interested in understanding the mechanisms by which protein assembly sometimes goes wrong, a phenomenon at the heart of many diseases. Lastly, I seek to leverage newfound discoveries to design and construct novel engineered nano- and microscale structures and biocatalysts.
I enjoy closely working with undergraduates in my research and have had multiple undergraduate coauthors on peer-reviewed publications. I encourage my students to develop not just conceptual knowledge and technical skills in the life sciences, but to also continue their growth and development as intellectually independent thinkers. I am an avid fan of the act of learning, and this passion constantly informs my performance as a teacher. I believe in the power of relentless curiosity and intellectual growth to improve the human condition, and I strive to empower these virtues in students in the laboratory and classroom.
When not teaching and learning about the life sciences, I enjoy spending time with my family and being outdoors.
- General Chemistry II (Chem 141)
- Protein structure and assembly, especially in large nano- and microscale molecular machines.
- Tunable condensation and phase transition of biological molecules, particularly liquid-liquid phase separation (LLPS).
- Molecular basis of protein aggregation and misfolding (proteopathies).
- Protein biotechnology, particularly the design and construction of protein-based biocatalysts and structures.
- Song, J., Levenson, R.H., Santos, J., Velazquez, L., Zhang, F., Fygenson, D., Wu, W., and D.E. Morse. 2020. Reflectin Proteins Facilitate in vitro Agglomeration, Fusion, and Tubulation of Synthetic Phospholipid Vesicles. Langmuir Co-first authorship
- Levenson, R.H., Bracken, C., Sharma, C., Santos, J., Arata, C., Malady, B., and D.E. Morse. 2019. Calibration between trigger and color: Neutralization of a genetically encoded Coulombic switch and dynamic arrest precisely tune reflectin assembly. Journal of Biological Chemistry. DOI: 10.1074/jbc.RA119.010339
- Levenson, R.H., Demartini, D.G., and D.E. Morse. Molecular Mechanism of Reflectin’s Tunable Biophotonic Control: Opportunities and Limitations for New Optoelectronics. 2017. APL Materials 5: 104801.
- Lynch, M.J., Levenson, R.H., Kim, E.A., Sircar R, Blaire, D.F., Dahlquist, F.W., and B. Crane. 2017. Co-Folding of a FliF-FliG Split Domain Forms the Basis of the MS:C Ring Interface within the Bacterial Flagellar Motor. Structure 25: 317-328
- Levenson, R.H, Bracken, C., Bush, N., and D.E. Morse. 2016. Cyclable Condensation and Hierarchical Assembly of Metastable Reflectin Proteins, the Drivers of Tunable Biophotonics. 2016. Journal of Biological Chemistry 291: 4058-4068
- Levenson, R.H., Zhou, H and F.W. Dahlquist. Structural insights into the interaction between the bacterial flagellar motor proteins FliF and FliG. 2012. Biochemistry 51: 5052-5060
- 2020-present: Assistant Professor of Biochemistry, Soka University of America, Life Sciences Concentration
- 2016-2020: Assistant Project Scientist, University of California, Santa Barbara, Institute of Collaborative Biotechnologies
- ASBMB travel award, 2018 & 2020
- ACS Division of Biological Chemistry travel award, 2017