Full Professor at the University of Bologna since 2001, he carries out his research in the field of bio-inorganic chemistry and chemistry of metal ions in biological systems, with the aim to elucidate their role in biomolecules. His research curriculum reflects an evolution from basic physical, coordination and organometallic chemistry to bioinorganic chemistry. This evolution has allowed him to build on chemical grounds a level and breadth of knowledge extremely useful to understand the role of metals in biological processes. Furthermore, the application of a large variety of physical methods to model compounds has been a learning bench for further applications of the same techniques to more complex biomolecules. Since he became an independent scientist, his main interest has been focused on the chemistry of metal ions in biological systems. The research carried out is oriented science applied to the chemical processes occurring in the environmental and human biosphere, with potential impact in the biomedical and agro-environmental fields.
In recent years, his research activity has focused on the study of the structure and function of urease, a Ni(II)-dependent enzyme that plays a key role for potential applications is biomedical and agricultural biotechnology. In particular, the structure of the enzyme bound to several inhibitors has been determined using protein crystallography, and the catalytic mechanism has been elucidated. Moreover, the molecular bases of urease activation by Ni(II) insertion in the active site have been established by the study of accessory proteins responsible for the intracellular trafficking of this essential but also toxic metal ion, while the structure and function of Ni(II)-dependent transcription factors that regulate the genes that code for proteins acting in the sensing and metal-homeostasis have also been investigated.
In general, the metal-containing biomolecules are obtained from natural sources or using recombinant DNA technology, and their molecular structure and function are established, clarifying the reciprocal influence of the metal ions and the protein matrix as well as the interaction modes of the metallo-protein with substrates, inhibitors, and other biological substrates such as proteins and DNA. These goals are pursued using a structural biology approach, applying high resolution NMR spectroscopy, biocrystallography, and other techniques such as X-ray absorption spectroscopy, circular dichroism, fluorescence spectroscopy, bioelectrochemistry, light-scattering, and calorimetry. A significant branch of the research is dedicated to the application of computational methods and biomolecular structural modeling to the elucidation of structures and reaction mechanisms.
Stefano Ciurli received his Laurea cum laude in Chemistry, inorganic/physical chemistry major, at the University of Pisa (1986) with a research carried out at the Department of Chemistry of Columbia University (New York, NY, USA) under the supervision of Prof. Carlo Floriani. The thesis focused on the functionalization of late transition metal (Fe, Co, Ni, Cu) porphyrino-type complexes, to study low oxidation states of the metals in ionic pairs with alkali ions. In addition, the synthesis of complexes of early transition metals (Ti, Zr, V, Nb) with highly sterically flexible macrocycles to obtain cis-coordination sites available for catalysis was also carried out.
He then moved to the Department of Chemistry at Harvard University (Cambridge, MA, USA) to carry out graduate research under the supervision of Prof. Richard H. Holm, focused on the synthesis of subsite-differentiated cubane-type clusters of the type MFe3S4 (M=Fe, V, Mo, Re, Co, and Ni) as models for similar centers in metallo-proteins and metallo-enzymes. The structures and properties of the obtained compounds were studied using IR, UV-vis, Mössbauer, EPR, X-ray absorption and NMR spectroscopies, while the structures of the compounds were obtained using small molecules X-ray crystallography. Electrochemical techniques such as cyclic voltammetry, differential pulse polarography and coulometry were routinely used, while magnetic susceptibility measurements were carried out using SQUID magnetometers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Harvard University in 1990.
He then carried out post-doctoral work from 1990 to 1992 under the supervision of Prof. Bertini (University of Firenze) and Prof. Luchinat (University of Bologna). During this time, he became acquainted with the purification of metalloproteins containing FeS clusters from natural sources such as bacteria and plants. The goal of the research was the elucidation of the relationships between structural, functional, and spectroscopic parameters in iron-sulfur proteins. The main technique used was paramagnetic NMR spectroscopy of iron-sulfur proteins. Acquaintance was gained on theoretical models of magnetic exchange and molecular mechanics and dynamics of iron-sulfur proteins.
Associate Professor in Agricultural Chemistry from 1992 to 2001, and Full Professor of General and Inorganic Chemistry since 2001, at the University of Bologna.
Since 1992 he has been teaching several courses in General and Inorganic Chemistry, Bioinorganic Chemistry, Physical Methods in Inorganic Chemistry, Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, Spectroscopic Analysis, Soil Biochemistry, Soil Fertility. He is currently involved in teaching General and Inorganic Chemistry for the Laurea in Pharmaceutical Chemistry and Technology and for the Laurea in Agricultural Technology, in addition to the course in Biomolecular NMR Spectroscopy for the Master in Molecular and Industrial Biotechnology at the University of Bologna. He is also Professor of General and Inorganic Chemistry at the Free University of Bolzano since 2004.
He has authored more than 150 papers on international journals and book chapters. He has tutored ca. 40 Laurea and Doctorate theses. He has given several talks at Italian universities and foreign academic institutions, national congresses and international conferences. Visiting Professor from 2013 to 2015, teaching Protein NMR and Bioinorganic Chemistry, at the Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul (Porto Alegre, Brasile) within the international program “Science without Borders” funded by the Brazilian Government. He has contributed to several national and international research programs, overall managing ca. 1.8 millions of Euro of research funds from public and private sources. He has carried out research in the following foreign institutions: Department of Biochemistry, University of Tucson, Arizona (USA), New College of the University of South Florida, Division of Natural Sciences (USA), European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg e Amburgo (D), Department of Inorganic Chemistry, Lund University (S), Department of Biotechnology, University of Science and Technology, Trondheim (N), Center for Biotechnology, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre (Brazil).
Coordinator of the Master in Molecular and Industrial Biotechnology since September 2015. Member of the Board of the Ph.D. program in Cellular and Molecular Biology since 2000. Member of the Board of the Inter-University Consortium on Magnetic Resonance of Metallo-Proteins (CIRMMP) since 1997. Member of the Board of the Division of Chemistry of Biological Systems of the Italian Chemical Society in the periods 2000–2002, 2012-2014, and 2015-2017. Member of the Board of the Inter-Departmental Consortium for Biotechnology Research of the University of Bologna from 1997 to 2012. Member of the Board of the Institute for Advanced Studies (2006-2012) and Institute of Superior Studies (2009-2012) of the University of Bologna. Coordinator of the ERASMUS/SOCRATES network in Agricultural Chemistry and Biochemistry with the University of Kent (UK), Newcastle (UK), Nottingham (UK), Rennes (F), Lleida (E), Cordova (E), Siviglia (E) and Gottingen (D) from 1993 to 1998. Member of the Board for the Ph.D. program in Crop Productivity of the University of Udine and Bologna (1993-1999). Member of the Evaluation Committee of the Research School in “Metal Ions in Biological Systems”, Department of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen (2009).
Member of the Editing Board of the following scientific journals: Chem. Tracts – Inorganic Chemistry (2001-2003), Journal of Biological Inorganic Chemistry – JBIC (2000-2002, 2004-2006, 2011-2014, 2018-2023), Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry (2020-2023) and PeerJ (2012-2014), Associate Editor of the Encyclopedia of Metallo-Proteins (Springer) from 2010 to 2012. Member of the Editorial Board of the “Metallo-Biology” book series published by the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Nominated by the Rector of the University of Bologna for the excellent teaching quality in the course on Agricultural Biochemistry (academic year 2002-2003) and in the course on General and Inorganic Chemistry (academic year 2004-2005).