Robert Hughes

Robert M. Hughes

Title: Assistant Professor, Biological Chemistry
Office: SZ 564
Phone: (252) 328-9730
Lab Website:

Research Assistant Professor, Eshelman School of Pharmacy, UNC – Chapel Hill (2015-2016)
Postdoctoral Fellow, Eshelman School of Pharmacy, UNC-Chapel Hill (2011-2015)
Postdoctoral Fellow, Duke University (2007-2011)
Ph.D., Bio-Organic Chemistry, Department of Chemistry, UNC – Chapel Hill (2007)
Graduate Study in Physical Chemistry, East Carolina University (2002)
B.S./B.A., Washington and Lee University (1998)

Research Overview

Research in the Hughes lab focuses on the development of protein and small molecule-based reagents for the control and monitoring of biochemical pathways. One project in our lab focuses on the development light-activated biosensors for the detection of oxidative stress (a precursor/predictor of numerous degenerative diseases) in cells. A second project is aimed at developing environmentally sensitive protein-based reagents that initiate biochemical pathways ending in cell death. Finally, we are developing library-based methods for the production of improved protein chimera via a linker optimization strategy. Other areas of interest include methods for the design and selection of improved biocatalysts.

Students performing research in our lab will have access to a wide variety of experimental techniques, including PCR, molecular cloning, protein expression and purification, western blotting, cell culture, fluorescence microscopy, and numerous biochemical assays.

Selected Publications

Taslimi A, Zoltowski B, Miranda JG, Pathak GP, Hughes RM, Tucker CL. “Optimized second-generation CRY2-CIB dimerizers and photoactivatable Cre recombinase.” Nat Chem Biol. 2016 Jun;12(6):425-30. doi:10.1038/nchembio.2063. Epub 2016 Apr 11.

Hughes RM, Freeman DJ, Lamb KN, Pollett RM, Smith WJ, Lawrence DS. Optogenetic Engineering: Light-Triggered Cell Death. Angew Chem Int Ed Engl. 2015

Rodgers ZL, Hughes RM, Doherty LM, Shell JR, Molesky BP, Brugh AM, Forbes MD, Moran AM, Lawrence DS. B(12)-mediated, long wavelength photopolymerization of hydrogels. J Am Chem Soc. 2015 Mar 11;137(9):3372-8. doi: 10.1021/jacs.5b00182.

Robert M. Hughes; Justin Varna; Adrianne M. C. Pittman; Junqi Song; Chandra L. Tucker. “A light-dependent, dark-promoted interaction of cryptochrome 1 and the Pr form of phytochrome B.” June 22, 2012 The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 287, 22165-22172.

Matthew J. Kennedy*; Robert M. Hughes*; Leslie A. Peteya; Joel W. Schwartz; Michael D. Ehlers; Chandra L. Tucker. “Rapid blue light induction of protein interactions in living cells” Nature Methods, 2010, 7(12):973-5.

Hughes, R. M.; Mutzenhardt, P.; Bartolotti, L.; Rodriguez, A. A. “Experimental and Theoretical Analysis of the Reorientational Dynamics of Fullerene C70 in Various Aromatic Solvents.” J. Phys. Chem. A. 2008, 112 (18), 4186-4193.

Hughes, R. M.; Benshoff, M.; Waters, M. L. “Influences of Chain Length and N- Methylation on a Cation-π Interaction in a β-Hairpin Peptide.” Chem. Eur. J. 2007, 13, 5753 – 5764.

Hughes, R. M.; Wiggins, K. R.; Khorasanizadeh, S.; Waters, M. L. “Recognition of Trimethylysine by the Chromodomain is not driven by the Hydrophobic Effect.” Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci., 2007, 104, 11184 – 11188.

Hughes, R. M.; Waters, M. L. “Effects of Lysine Acetylation in a β-hairpin Peptide: Comparison of an amide-π and a cation-π interaction.” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2006, 128, 13586-13591.

Hughes, R. M.; Waters, M. L. “Arginine Methylation in a β-hairpin peptide: Implications for Arg-π interactions, ΔCp°, and the cold denatured state.” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2006, 128, 12735-12742.

Hughes, R. M.; Waters, M. L. “Influence of N-Methylation on a Cation-π Interaction Produces a Remarkably Stable β-Hairpin Peptide.” J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2005, 127, 6518- 6519.

Hughes, R. M.; Mutzenhardt, P.; Bartolotti, L.; Rodriguez, A. A. “Analysis of the spin- lattice relaxation rate and reorientational dynamics of fullerene C70 in chlorobenzene- d(5).” J. Mol. Liq. 2005, 116, 139-146.