Associate Professor of Chemistry Myriam Cotten and her team of Hamilton students spent 10 days this summer at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Fla., to study piscidin, antimicrobial peptides from fish. Cotten's team, comprised of Caitlin Burzynski ’12, Nina Kraus '13, and Alex Dao ’12, used several state-of-the-art Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) instruments to obtain atomic-level information on samples of piscidin bound to lipid bilayers that mimic bacterial membranes.
Similar to Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) used in clinical medicine , NMR relies on superconducting magnets to obtain signals from the NMR-active nuclei of atoms such as hydrogen, carbon, and nitrogen. The studies performed in Cotten’s group aim at characterizing molecular features that allow antimicrobial peptides to kill bacteria in a few minutes. The long term goal of this research is to identify common principles that will facilitate the design of pharmaceuticals with enhanced biological activity and reduced toxicity to mammalian cells. Cotten’s research is supported by a five-year CAREER grant from the National Science Foundation.