Summer Centered: Katie Tsai '16 and Emily Winesett '16 Research Natural Antibiotic Creation
Thanks to funding from the Koshland Integrated Science Center, the rising seniors are getting a head start on their thesis research in the lab of Assistant Professor of Chemistry Lou Charkoudian '03 this summer.
This summer the Koshland Integrated Science Center is funding the work that Katie Tsai '16 and Emily Winesett '16 are doing for Assistant Professor of Chemistry Lou Charkoudian '03 this summer. Their projects focus on how fungi and bacteria create natural antibiotics and how these processes can be replicated. Their results will be immediately helpful for fellow researchers, but, long-term, their work could have significant repercussions in the pharmaceutical and alternative-fuel industries.
Tsai's research focuses on creating new ways to understand the structure of proteins.“[It] entails using an infrared-active cyanide probe to understand the structure, conformational changes, and binding behaviors of acyl carrier proteins and their partner enzymes in polyketide synthase and fatty acid synthase systems,” she explains. In other words, she uses vibrating probes to figure out the structure and functions of various types of proteins.
Tsai came to Haverford expecting to major in biology, but professors like Charkoudian inspired a change of heart.“Organic chemistry was probably one of the most rewarding classes I've taken at Haverford,” says Tsai, who, as a biochemistry concentrator, has found a way to incorporate both of her interests into one field of study.“And it's what inspired me to become a chemistry major.”
Winesett's work focuses on a special type of molecular bond, called aryl-aryl bonds, which are incredibly hard and expensive to produce synthetically because the process requires toxic chemicals.“Bacteria make these same bonds using enzymes,” says Winesett.“If you can figure out what enzyme is performing this reaction and if it needs any cofactors, the hope is that you could then use this enzyme to make the bond rather than chemicals which would damage the environment--hence an environmentally friendly biocatalyst.”
For Winesett, who is also a pitcher for the women's softball team, the chemistry department's SuperLab course and its advanced, inquiry-based introductory class prepared her for this independent research in Charkoudian's lab.
Both Tsai and Winesett are planning to expand their current research into their senior theses next year.
Three additional students, Josh Bulos '16, Aurelio Mollo '17, and Grace Thiele '17, are also working alongside Tsai and Winesett this summer in Charkoudian's lab.
—Jack Hasler '15
"Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students' Center-funded summer work.