“It was when we saw diffraction spots at high resolution for the first time! I spent a year setting up about one hundred crystallization trials and subsequently screening hundreds of beautiful crystals with not much success. It was very emotionally taxing to be sleep-deprived (most of our synchrotron times were during the night) and have your precious crystals diffract poorly. While I understood spending a year attempting to perform X-ray crystallography is not much time, as a starting graduate student, I couldn’t help but feel that I was a failed crystallographer. That one crystal ended up being all I needed, and the structure, along with the biochemistry, seemed to fall into place. We collected the X-ray data in October 2018 and wrote the paper in 3 months.”
Congratulations to Dr. Christine Dunham and colleagues on their recent publication in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This manuscript has won the journal’s Cozzarelli Prize, which recognizes one outstanding contribution each year to each of the six disciplines of the National Academy of Sciences and celebrates “scientific excellence and originality”.
The manuscript entitled “Mechanism of tRNA-mediated +1 ribosomal frameshifting” discusses ribosomal frameshifting, a perturbation of the protein assembly process. With an enhanced understanding of this process, we can begin to understand more about how proteins are synthesized as well as how some antibiotics can hijack this process and re-engineer it for new applications.
Dr. Christine Dunham, associate professor of Biochemistry at the Emory University School of Medicine and Associated Faculty in Chemistry, has been awarded the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Young Investigator Award. The award includes a $5,000 cash prize and recognizes outstanding research contributions to biochemistry and molecular biology by a scientist who has no more than 15 years postdoctoral experience. In addition to her research and teaching, Christine is an editorial board member of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, which the ASBMB publishes and has served on the ASBMB’s meeting program planning committee
In her review, Ha An summarizes the major findings of the Metelev et al. paper and emphasizes the value of genome mining in the discovery of new antimicrobials. “We previously thought we had beaten bacterial infections with ‘miracle drugs’ but if you look at the numbers from the CDC, at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and at least 23,000 people die each year as a direct result of these infections in the United States alone,” Ha An says. “Techniques such as genome mining used in this paper can help sift through tons of sequencing data and can lead us to places we would have never thought of to look.”
Beyond its scientific contributions to the field, this manuscript held particular value to Ha An. “As a novice scientist, this paper on klebsazolicin provides a nice story of a scientific study that walks through the project from conception in silico and into the laboratory for mechanistic and structural investigation,” she says. “It also let me dip my toes into making figures of ribosomes structures, which I am hoping to do a lot of during my time in the Dunham lab to tease out the details of bacterial translation with atomic-level resolution.”
Ian Pavelich (Dunham Group) has been awarded an Advancing Science in America or ARCS Fellowship. The ARCS Foundation advances science and technology in the United States by providing financial awards to academically outstanding U.S. citizens studying to complete degrees in science, engineering and medical research. The awards are focused on helping researchers at the startup or “seed stage” of their work and discovery.
Ian’s project is titled “Molecular mechanisms of antibiotic tolerance.” “The project focuses on identifying the molecular mechanism for how pathogenic bacteria confer an antibiotic tolerance phenotype or behavior without the requirement for genetic mutations,” says Ian. “Currently, we’re attempting to identify how different stresses, like classes of antibiotics, activate different enzymes that trigger antibiotic tolerance.” The research has potential implications for the future of public health: “As modern medicine would be impossible without the use of antibiotics, further investigating these novel systems as potential new antimicrobial strategies is incredibly important.”
The ARCS Award is an unrestricted $7,500 award given directly to the scientist and may be renewed for up to three years. When asked how the ARCS Award will affect his work, Ian says: “I think that ARCS will provide a layer of flexibility in how we choose to answer the questions targeted by my research. I am extremely grateful that the ARCS committee granted me these funds, and with them I aim to expand the scope of my studies using more interdisciplinary approaches. I also plan to use funds to attend a range of diverse conferences.”
Outside the lab, Ian has been involved in outreach at Emory, working on a chemistry event during the annual Science Olympiad for area high school students that focused on fundamental gas laws and their quantitative uses. Ian’s ties to Emory go beyond chemistry, too. This month, his partner will be joining the Political Science Department graduate program at Emory: “we’ll be doing our PhDs side by side!”