Associate Professor of Chemistry Myriam Cotten and her research team spent 10 days this summer at the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Fla., to study piscidins, antimicrobial peptides from fish. Student researchers were Akritee Shrestha ’13, Christopher Rider ’12, Leah Cairns ’13, Robert Hayden ’14 and Victoria Bogen ’14.
They used four 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 and mammalian membranes.
Instrument time is awarded based on a competitive peer-reviewed proposal process. The team used a combination of 300, 400, 600, and 900 MHz instruments. The latter spectrometer is the only ultra-wide bore 900 MHz instrument in the world. 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, deuterium, 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.