Research Interests: Nature provides us with a tremendous variety of small molecules that possess fascinating structure and potent medicinal properties. The chemical ecology/natural products theme of our research group is working to identify bioactive natural products that are associated with either amphibian or plant self-defense. Our other research theme is the development of novel antibacterial/antiseptic compounds to combat antibiotic-resistant bacterial pathogens.
Natural Product Isolation Projects: Globally, amphibians face one of the largest extinction rates in the animal kingdom. Although habitat destruction is a major cause of amphibian extinctions, infection from the fungal pathogens Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd) and Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bsal) are large contributors. Our group is working in collaboration with multiple ecologists, including Dr. Doug Woodhams at UMass-Boston, to examine bacterially-produced natural products endemic to the skins of frogs, salamanders, and toads that may confer protection against this chytrid fungus. Fueled by an NSF grant, we collaborate with Dr. Louise Rollins-Smith at Vanderbilt University and Dr. Tom Umile at Villanova to investigate Bd, its fungal cousin Bsal, and their natural products. In a separate NSF-funded research project, we work with Drs. Tanya Livshultz (Drexel University) and Dr. Shannon Straub (Hobart and William Smith Colleges) to investigate pyrollizidine alkaloids, common toxins found in milkweed plants.
Medicinal Chemistry Project: Bacteria are developing resistance at a rate faster than new antibiotics are coming to market. We are developing novel multicationic antiseptics (multiQACs) to more efficiently disrupt cell membranes and lyse bacteria. Working with Dr. Bill Wuest at Emory University, we are also exploring how our compounds disrupt biofilms. Since 2014, we have collaborated on over 24 publications (list), as we learn what cationic amphiphile structures are most effective at inhibiting bacterial growth, including biofilms.