A Motion-Sensor Switch for Antibiotic Resistance: My New Paper in the Journal Structure

I’ve been working on my thesis for the last few months, squirreled away in libraries and coffee shops, but now I’ve submitted and waiting to defend, I’m happy to share what’s happened in the meantime! A research paper I’ve been working on for a long time has been accepted, and published in the journal Structure. You can find it online, here. This paper makes up a bulk of the work in my PhD thesis, containing…

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How build a protein – lessons from the Protein Engineering Canada 2016 meeting

How do you make a new protein, or a new function in an existing one? This is the goal of the field of protein engineering. Researchers working in this field use a number of strategies to try to make proteins with new characteristics. The development of proteins with new function have applications in industry, medicine, and biotechnology. Want a more stable or more efficient enzyme? Talk to a protein engineer. Want to convert a protein…

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I love thial-S-oxides so much I cry

Lots of things can make us cry. Pain. Joy. Boredom. Sadness. Toy Story 3. There’s another common source of tears in any home, and it lives in the kitchen. Onions and other plants in the Allium genus produce compounds that trigger an involuntary reaction. Chopping these bulbs turns even the most stoic into a weeping mess in minutes. What makes this happen? Does the onion want us to be sad? Does it want us to…

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Music of the Macromolecules

To fully understand a molecule, you first need to learn what it looks like, and then, how it moves. This isn’t easy. I’ve talked before about how unusual biological molecules can be if you’re accustomed to thinking of real-world objects. They are fundamentally flexible and dynamic in a way that everyday objects aren’t. They move chaotically, at lightning speed, crashing through a molecular mosh pit on the sub-microscopic scale. Protein and nucleic acid macromolecules are…

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How Spicy Would You Like That Chemotherapy?

Molecules are abstract objects, so it’s easy to talk about one using the single property we know about it. Penicillin cures infections. Chlorophyll harvests sunlight. Cocaine gets you high. Thinking this way keeps everything simple and makes it easy to tell a story about them. Referring to molecules by a single characteristic keeps things simple. Unfortunately, nature hates simplicity. A molecule doesn’t know the role we’ve given it. It wiggles blindly through solution, crashing into…

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Untranslated Elements: CRISPR

My last couple posts have become longer than I expected. I’m going to break the pattern this week. I’m starting a recurring series of posts containing brief thoughts, centred on a single topic in the molecular biosciences. These posts will be unorganized, full of sarcasm, conjecture, and the occasional opinion. I’m calling it: Untranslated Elements. Today, CRISPR technologies.   For a brief background, CRISPR/Cas9 is a gene editing technology developed from a bacterial system for…

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Antibiotic Resistance as a Force of Nature

My research focuses on antibiotics – specifically antibiotic resistance. Last week I gave a seminar on my work, which was followed by some excellent questions about the origins and evolution of resistance. While I don’t personally get my hands dirty studying molecular evolution or microbial ecology, I think about these topics often, for a couple reasons. First, the origins and evolution of resistance factors have interesting implications that contextualize the structure and function of resistance…

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Embracing the Molecular Jiggle

A molecule is intangible. It’s too small to see, too small to feel. Trillions could fit on the sharp end of a pin. These strange entities lives in a world very different from our own, at the boundary between quantum uncertainty and statistical chaos. Many processes in chemistry, biology, and medicine depend on our understanding of molecules in this alien world. However, it can be a challenge to accurately represent what molecules are really like.…

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A Tuberculosis Enzyme Decapitates Vital Energy Molecules to Kill Cells

If you cant defeat your enemies by force, defeat them with subterfuge. Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes tuberculosis, lives by this mantra. While other disease-causing bacteria mount an all-out assault on the body, the tuberculosis bacteria lay low, hide, and slowly kill us from the inside out. M. tuberculosis is a master of stealth and deception. Like the Greeks entering Troy in a wooden horse, it hides from the immune system within our own…

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A Blog About Biochemistry

Hi! Welcome! If you’re reading this, you’ve found your way to my tiny corner of the web, where I will be writing on a regular basis about the things that excite and challenge me in science (with regular digressions, as mood strikes). I hope you might join me for the ride. You can also find me elsewhere @superhelical. There’s one important thing to know about me at the start: I’m a huge nerd about molecules.…

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