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Spring Hill College, The University of Alabama chemistry professors awarded major grant

A key to combating the rise of bacteria with resistance to antibiotics is getting a grasp on how bacteria ward off the drugs. With a new grant from the National Institutes of Health, researchers at Spring Hill College (SHC) and The University of Alabama (UA) hope their study of a common defense mechanism in bacteria will further development of therapies that could give a class of antibiotics a leg up in the microbial battle.

Allyn Schoeffler, PhD, assistant professor of chemistry at Spring Hill was awarded a subcontract to work alongside Jack A. Dunkle, PhD, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UA who is leading the project which received the three-year, $430,000 grant.

“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to give Spring Hill College undergraduates the chance to participate in cutting edge research at The University of Alabama,” stated Schoeffler. “The research question we will be investigating in this collaboration is closely aligned with my interests in protein-structure function and has real implications for our understanding of antibiotic resistance.”

The World Health Organization called antibiotic-resistant bacteria a global health problem in a 2014 report. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimated in a 2013 report about 2 million people each year become infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics, killing at least 23,000 people.

For her part, Schoeffler will analyze the 3-D structure of the erythromycin resistance methyltransferase and its molecular target using high-powered X-rays at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource, a state-of-the-art scientific facility run jointly by Stanford University and the United States Department of Energy. Dunkle’s team will examine a mechanism of resistance to macrolide antibiotics. This class of antibiotics includes erythromycin and azithromycin, both designated as essential medicines by the World Health Organization.

Schoeffler described this as an exciting opportunity to strengthen the scientific ties between the two institutions. In the coming summer months, junior SHC biochemistry majors Anna Breland and Georgette Munezero will be traveling to UA to work in Dunkle’s lab.

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