Every week day, I get to work with a machine that looks like a large modified version of the Star Wars droid R2-D2. But this is where the resemblance ends. Our machine is a very large magnet that we exploit for a kind of super-microscopy technique called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR). The NMR magnet operates at ultralow temperatures, -269°C, less than 4 degrees above absolute 0 temperature (-273.15°C). This is achieved by surrounding the magnet in liquid helium, which is in turn enveloped by a jacket of liquid nitrogen. The power of NMR is that we can see molecules at the atomic level. This creative technique can measure the building blocks of everything, from the dirt on your shoe to the cobweb in the corner to a tear drop.
Antibiotic resistance is a global health concern
In the context of human health, we can study the structures and interactions of biomolecules that regulate many of the biological processes in a cell. In particular, my group is interested in antibiotics, which is a research area of high societal importance due to the alarming rise of antimicrobial resistance.
Resistance to antibiotics is increasing world-wide and threatens effective prevention and treatment of many infections, surgical procedures and cancer treatments. This results in rising health care costs due to prolonged illness and more intensive care.
Therefore, we urgently need novel and better antibiotics. Antibiotics prevent bacterial cells from growing and replicating. For example, antibiotics can occupy receptors on the bacterial cell membrane and prevent binding of certain substances needed for replication and survival, or they can disrupt the structure of the bacterial cell membrane causing improper functioning.