12 January 2021
“I’d always hoped I could return to Lithuania to do my research, but I struggled to find the right opportunity,” Toleikis says. “I think the EMBO Installation Grant is the best set-up you could possibly have for starting an independent research career. It will enable me to establish myself in my home country.”
After completing his undergraduate studies in biochemistry at Vilnius University in Lithuania, Toleikis moved to London to do his PhD on the biophysics of protein-DNA interactions including DNA motor proteins. Then followed postdoctoral research in Coventry in the UK on the biophysics of molecular transport by kinesins. It was while working with kinesins, a group of microtubule-based motor proteins involved in many important cellular processes, that he realised how much more there was to learn about the mechanics and biophysics of DNA motor proteins. “In comparison to DNA motors, we know a lot about how kinesins work,” Toleikis explains.
His research project brings together the experience and expertise he has gained working in both fields. Specifically, Toleikis will be using single molecule force measurements and magnetic tweezers to study the Cas3 helicase motor in CRISPR, short DNA sequences found in prokaryotes that identify and attack pathogenic viruses. “We know that DNA motors are crucial for CRISPR, but just how they contribute to their ability to fight off pathogens is not clearly understood. I want to study the mechanisms of these DNA motors, and I hope my research will help us better understand CRISPR as well.”