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Anti-Bacterial Drug Discovery Lab

Department: Bio-Chemstiry
Professor: Paul Richardson

Professor Paul Richardson's lab space is a closet, a fridge, and a spill-proof bench.  He has one of the largest undergraduate research teams on campus with six students, all working in teams of two, in his Anti-Bacterial Drug Discovery Lab in pursuit of the lab motto: harness evil to fight evil.  Since their discovery, antibiotics have been used to fight bacterial infections.  However bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics when they mutate.  Professor Richardson's Anti-Bacterial Drug Discovery Research Lab looks at alternative strategies to prevent or inhibit bacterial infections besides the use of antibiotics through three on-campus projects.

Bacteriophages

Bacteriophages, or phages, are viruses that can infect specific bacteria.  They are safe to humans and are found in our natural environment.  Bacteriophage is a term derived from the words 'bacteria' and the Greek word which means 'to devour.'  Phages provide an alternative to antibiotics to treat mutating strains of bacteria because they can evolve with the bacteria, devouring it along the way.  Biochemistry majors Ina Troutman and Riane Petersman are researching a project they call "Is the cure of MRSA in front of our faces?"  Their project tries to identify naturally occurring bacteriophages by addressing two questions 1) Does the general population contain bacteriophages that will fight against bacterial skin infections? and 2) Can we isolate an identify these bacteriophages based on genomic fingerpringting and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)?  Ina and Riane collect random samples from volunteers by swabbing behind the ear and inside the nasal passage of the people's faces.  They take these samples back to the lab and test them for phages that might fight against the infectious pathogen Staphylococcus aureus, the bacteria responsible for staph infections.  Over the past two years they have tested over 80 people and while turning up no phages they have found strains of bacteria that can outcompete staph infections.

Finding Viruses in our Environment
The Belle W. Baruch Foundation at Hobcaw Barony, $5000 grant

This project looks at bacteriophages in our marine estuaries and the bacteriophage's ability to control such conditions as bacteria bloom, where bacteria drain the oxygen content of the water.  This project also looks at the effect sea water has on bacteriophage levels in an estuary.  Students Joe Cannon and Nich Thurn are working on a project called "Finding Viruses in our Envrironment."  They collect soil and water samples found in Hobcaw Barony, a large nature preserve in Georgetown Couty, and test for bacteriophage.  Currently they are using Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) techniques to detect bacteriophages specific against E.coli.  Lab tests have shown that this method is able to detect as low as two viral particles per sample tested.  Professor Richardson's virology class collects samples from Horry County, and run the same tests to look for bacteriophages, generally finding viruses 70-80% of the time.  Data collected by this project will be valuable in measuring bacteriophage counts and may prove to be hlpful in re-opening beaches that have been closed due to bacterial contamination.

Unnatrual Amino Acids

McKynsey Douglas and Kayla Liland are looking at unnatural amino acids - d-amino acids - in the lab, and the ability of d-amino acids to slow down bacterial and viral infections so that these infections can be destroyed by your immune system.  A set of 20 amino acids, mostly l-amino acids, make up proteins within the body.  D-amino acids are not usually included in proteins because they are unnatural and can cause the protein to lose its function.  Because the protein might not function properly it could stop the growth of these infections.  McKynsey and Kayla are looking at d-amino acids and their effect on the growth of six kinds of bacteria, including bacteria that cause food poisoning on fruits and meats, the bacteria responsible for strep throat, the bacteria that can cause skin infections, and three strains of viruses.

Professor Richardson says that his research students "are getting results and moving forward" and that it is important that we constantly develop new and innovative ways to tackle infections so we can always remain ahead of the pathogens.  The style of these research projects was designed so that his students have ownership in their project and develop critical thinking skills in the laboratory as they face constant challenges by confronting pathogens.  The students present their research at the annual South Carolina Academy of Science.  The meeting in 2013 will be held in Columbia, South Carolina. 

Paul Richardson was awarded the Harry M. Lightsey Jr. Visiting Scholar in 2012.