Summary: A major hurdle in the treatment of bacterial infections is the rapid emergence of microbial resistance to antibiotics. Communication between two bacteria via quorum sensing is an important factor in the emergence of plasmid-mediated resistance. This communication takes place via specific small molecules called “autoinducers”. As bacterial cells divide, the concentration of autoinducers in the environment increases proportionately until they reach a threshold concentration where they begin to diffuse away and bind to the receptors of neighboring bacteria. This process causes bacteria to cluster, paving the way to the formation, development and maturation of biofilms. Bacterial infections are very difficult to treat in this biofilm mode because a thick polysaccharide matrix encapsulates bacteria, protecting them from antibiotic attack. Biofilms formed by interbacterial communication among Pseudomonas aeruginosa have been implicated in cystic fibrosis, meningitis and pneumonia. In an effort to design inhibitors that prevent the formation of biofilms in P. aeruginosa, we are currently working on developing chemical tools to understand and utilize the knowledge gained from these studies to interrupt chemical communication between these bacteria. We believe that this approach will limit the ability of bacteria to form biofilms, thereby improving the efficacy of existing antibacterial therapies.

Minimum Classes: General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Introductory Biology

Projects: The projects in my laboratory are at the interface of chemistry and biology. Students working on these projects will have the opportunity to learn one or more of these tools including small molecule organic synthesis, protein purification, enzyme assays, UV-Visible spectroscopy, NMR spectroscopy and gel-electrophoresis. INBRE Summer Fellows could either work on a synthesis project, which will train the student to setup reactions, analyze the product using TLC, NMR, GC-MS and HPLC or choose to get more exposure on biochemical techniques. In the latter case, students will express and purify our protein of interest (AHL Synthase) and measure the activity of the protein using spectroscopy based enzyme assays. Of course, the selection of an appropriate project will depend on students’ background and interests. The interdisciplinary nature of our research program will easily allow a student to work on a project with either a chemical or biochemical focus.

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