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NDSU researcher studies regulation of transporters that are key to bacterial survival

Photo of Christopher ColbertChristopher Colbert, NDSU assistant professor of biochemistry, has received a $348,000 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health to conduct research on structure-function relationships of iron transport and transcriptional regulation in Gram-negative bacteria. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, multi-drug resistant Gram-negative bacteria represent one of the major modern threats to human health. This class of bacteria, while comprising many harmless or symbiotic organisms, also includes potent pathogenic species, such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Escherichia coli and Salmonella enterica, the causative agents of multiple skin and gastrointestinal infections. These bacteria utilize highly evolved transporter proteins to import critical nutrients, such as iron, which is essential for survival, from their environment.

Recent advances in antibiotic development have demonstrated that antibiotic conjugates to iron import molecules can be selectively targeted to specific bacteria, and that this method of drug delivery overcomes crucial antibiotic resistance mechanisms.

Colbert’s research focuses on how the proteins that drive this process interact with each other, and what signals turn iron import on and off in the bacterial cell. He envisions that these details will provide information on how this bacterial system may be manipulated to enhance antibiotic conjugate therapy for bacterial infections.

His laboratory utilizes techniques such as X-ray crystallography, high-resolution protein nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and small-angle X-ray scattering to determine the atomic resolution structures of proteins, in addition to biophysical and biochemical methods to characterize the structure-function relationships of the proteins in this system.

Colbert earned a bachelor’s degree in molecular and cellular biology from Pennsylvania State University and doctoral degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from Purdue University. He was a Howard Hughes Medical Institute postdoctoral research associate at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center under the direction of Nobel laureate Johann Deisenhofer, and was an instructor and assistant professor at the university before coming to NDSU.

His research is supported by the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number 1R15GM113227-01.

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