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Unique Chemistry

They have a unique chemistry – and it could save lives.

Meet two Spring Hill College (SHC) Biochemistry majors – junior Athina Amanor and senior Georgette Munezero. Their journeys to The Hill weave together their backgrounds and their passion for discovery.

Amanor’s family roots are in Ghana, from where her family migrated to Mobile when she was 6 years old. She followed the footsteps of her three brothers who also attended SHC plus she runs track, plays tennis, is a Resident Advisor and is in the Chemistry Club. She hopes to attend medical school and says her choices “include but are not limited to being a Pediatric Cardiologist or follow in my grandfather’s footsteps and become an OB-GYN.”

Munezero came to the U.S. from Rwanda to attend high school in Connecticut. She, too, wants to attend medical school but wants to return to Rwanda to study. She said she is considering Peace Corps or Global Health Corps before entering school but she definitely wants to practice medicine in her country or in surrounding areas.

(l-r) Munezero, Amanor & Schoeffler
(l-r) Munezero, Amanor & Schoeffler

This summer, Amanor and Munezero traveled with Allyn Schoeffler, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemistry to the University of Alabama (UA) in Tuscaloosa as a part of a major grant award. In March 2018, Schoeffler was awarded a subcontract to work alongside Jack A. Dunkle, PhD, Assistant Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UA who is leading a project which received a three-year, $430,000 grant to study bacteria-resistant antibiotics.

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, these researchers – including SHC and UA students – 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.

As for their time Dunkle’s lab in Tuscaloosa, the pair say they were very focused on making sure their work was, in layman’s terms, an exact science. “We would work over and over to get the one problem solved and it would be very frustrating but when you go back and you realize what you need to do, and you create the solution, we would cheer and be so excited,” said Munezero.

“It’s almost too good to be true,” added Amanor. “Could I really be working on something this significant?” Munezero added, “Once you do step back, it’s pretty gratifying – to help save humankind.”

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 as well as the Advanced Lightsource in Berkeley, California. Dunkle’s team examined 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.

See more about Athina and Georgette in this video.

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