Danielle Schmitt and Tara TeSlaa have been awarded $250,000 from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to investigate why diets deficient in choline and methionine can cause liver damage. Schmitt is an assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry; TeSlaa is an assistant professor of molecular and medical pharmacology.

Choline and methionine are essential nutrients obtained from food. These molecules donate carbon molecules that the body uses to build lipids and modify proteins. Too much or too little carbon donation can lead to liver damage by fat accumulation and scarring, but the exact pathways through which these carbon molecules damage the liver are not yet understood.  

A tool being developed for the project will utilize engineered proteins to manipulate choline and methionine use in specific parts of a cell. Schmitt and TeSlaa will use the tool to control metabolism in the livers of mice to understand the nutrients’ role in liver health and whole-body physiology.

“Our goal is to connect metabolism at the subcellular level to the whole organism,” Schmitt said.