Dr. Mustafa Erbakan


I started as a PhD student in Curtis Lab in August 2008;

I defended my thesis June 2014 on the topic “Advancing Rhodobacter sphaeroides for functional expression of medically and industrially relevant membrane proteins”.

I had received my BSc and MSc at Cukurova University in Turkey. My previous research areas were kinetics of antioxidant enzymes and membrane bound guanylate cyclases in visual transduction. After working at Adiyaman University as research assistant in 2007, I have won a scholarship from Turkish Republic, Ministry of National Education to attend Penn State and pursue a PhD degree in Protein Production Technologies.

After finishing a Postdoc at Penn State in the lab of Manish Kumar, I returned to Turkey to fulfill my commitment to assist in advancing Turkish Universities at Bozok University · Biosystems Engineering Web Page


My project is related to develop Rhodobacter sphaeroides (R. sphaeroides) as an alternative bacterial platform for functional expression of medically and industrially relevant membrane proteins. Membrane proteins carry out extremely important roles for any kind of organisms including transportation of solutes and water in and out of the cells, signal transduction, cell-cell adhesion, energy generation etc. Not surprisingly, majority of the drugs on market today, directly or indirectly, target membrane proteins to regulate their activity. Despite their extreme importance, membrane proteins of known structure are quite minute compared to their soluble counterparts. Low abundance of membrane proteins in natural sources and poor performance of heterologous expression systems hinder obtaining higher membrane proteins titers for structural and functional studies. Membrane proteins require a lipid bioenvironment to retain their 3D structure and functionality. Expression platforms like E. coli have limited membrane surface area to accommodate heterologously expressed membrane proteins. Thus, these proteins either end up in inclusion bodies losing their 3D structure or create toxicity problems for the host. R.sphaeroides is a photosynthetic bacteria with 15 times larger membrane surface area than E.coli provided by inducible intracellular membranes (ICM) holding photosynthetic apparatus. We employ native photosynthetic promoters to synchronize membrane protein expression with ICM synthesis. Thus heterologously expressed membrane proteins target ICMs and retain their 3D structure. A variety of disease linked human membrane proteins of different membrane spanning domains such as tight junction protein, occludin and aquaporins are currently being produced at mg/L levels. The next level of the study aims the scaling up of membrane protein expression employing a photobioreactor to solve light limitations experienced by high density cultures.


Erbakan M, Curtis B, Nixon BT, Kumar M, Curtis WR. (2015) Advancing Rhodobacter sphaeroides as a platform for expression of functional membrane proteins. Protein Expression and Purification. 115:109-117. doi: 10.1016/j.pep.2015.05.012.

Erbakan M, Shen Y-x, Butler PJ, Grelakowski M, Kumar M, Curtis WR (2014) Molecular cloning, overexpression and characterization of a novel water channel protein from Rhodobacter sphaeroides. PLoS1, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0086830

Yue-xiao Shen Patrick O. Saboe Ian T. Sines Mustafa Erbakan Manish Kumar (2014) Biomimetic membranes: A review, Journal of Membrane Science, 454: 359-381.

Acknowledged in:

You Jung Kang1, Harrison S. Wostein1, Sheereen Majd (2013) A Simple and Versatile Method for the Formation of Arrays of Giant Vesicles with Controlled Size and Composition, Advanced Materials, 25(47): 6834-6838.


Mustafa / Manuel - Talk (294f) = Use of Fluorescent Protein Fusions to Optimize Membrane Protein Expression in Anaerobic Photoheterotrophic Rhodobacter; (Abstract #345095; Extended Abstract: AIChE, CurtisLab-Doc) Session: Biosensors, Biodiagnosis and Bioprocess Monitoring Tuesday November 5, Scheduled Time: 2:00 pm (Golden Gate 2, Hilton).


2012 Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award, Proposal: Solar Energy Based Biomimetic Water Desalination and Purification (with 3 other graduate students).

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