On June 15, Erika Taylor, assistant professor of chemistry, assistant professor of environmental studies, received a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (part of the National Institutes of Health) to support her research on “Inhibition of (the enzyme) HeptosyltransferaseI for the treatment of Gram-negative bacterial infection.” Gram-Negative bacteria include things like E. coli, Salmonella, and V. cholerae (the cause of Cholera) that are common causes of food-bourne illnesses.
The grant, worth $492,000 will enable her to engage multiple graduate and undergraduate students in the proposed work through June 2018. Preliminary results for this project were obtained with the help of graduate student Joy Cote and Dan Czyzyk PhD ’15; and undergraduates Zarek Siegel ’16, Keonmin Hwang ’16, Noreen Nkosana BA ’11, MA ’13, and several others.
The current widespread use and misuse of antimicrobials has led to the emergence of bacterial resistance to many commonly used antibiotics, necessitating development of new drug targets. Lipopolysaccharides, a major constituent of the Gram-negative bacterial outer membrane, important for cell motility, intestinal colonization and bacterial biofilms formation, contribute substantively to antibiotic resistance by hampering antibiotic uptake. Inhibiting the synthesis of bacterial lipopolysaccharides results in bacteria that are unable to form biofilms and are more susceptible to antimicrobials.
The LPS heptosyltransferase enzymes investigated as part of this proposal are therefore potential targets for the inhibition of bacterial biofilm formation and the development of therapeutic agents.
“Every morning when you wake, you have a bacterial biofilm on your teeth,” Taylor explained. “Also, when you see/feel slime on a rock at the shore that too is likely from a bacterial biofilm (so long as it isn’t being caused by algae).”
Bacteria grow in biofilms to help enable survival under harsh conditions (including things like drying out, being exposed to highly acidic environments as happens in our mouths; biofilms also help bacteria resist UV-radiation and antibiotic treatments).
The project is intended to lead to the development of new antimicrobials for the treatment of Gram-negative bacterial infections. The long-term goal of this work is the development of new drugs for the treatment of these infections, Taylor said. This work also could help in the prevention of secondary infections transmitted in hospitals because of the prevention of bacterial biofilms on things like catheters.