COS Graduate Student Mental Health Workshop with UHCS & WeCare

Graduate Admissions and Student Services is excited to announce the first event in a monthly speaker series for graduate students. Each month we will hear from different campus partners with information on services offered or ways to get involved with initiatives on campus.

Tuesday, February 23rd
8:30 – 9:30 AM EST
Mental Health Workshop with University Health and Counseling Services and WeCare.

Learn more about how UHCS and WeCare can support you during these unprecedented times, including where to find the resources you need and information on the variety of support groups available.

Please contact [email protected] with any questions.

The Journey towards a Master’s Degree

Are you an undergraduate student considering pursuing a master’s degree program? Attend a panel discussion and hear from faculty and alumni about their journey towards a graduate degree. Undergraduate Advising and Graduate Admissions and Student Services will be available to answer questions.

Learn about the College of Science Master’s Degree programs, panelists will share why they selected a Master’s degree program and how it led to their careers.

Tuesday, March 16th
5:00pm – 5:45pm
David Dawson, Academic Advisor
Kevin Broadbelt, Associate Professor and Interim Graduate Director of Biotechnology and Bioinformatics
Vanecia Harrison, Graduate Co-Op Advisor
Gaurav Saawant, MS Biotechnology Graduate Student Ambassador
The Graduate Admissions & Student Services Team

5:45pm – 6:30pm

The Journey towards a PhD Degree

Are you an undergraduate student considering pursuing a doctorate degree? Attend a panel discussion and hear from faculty and alumni about their journey towards a PhD. Undergraduate Advising and Graduate Admissions and Student Services will be available to answer questions.

Is a PhD Right for you?
Learn about College of Science PhD programs and the new College of Science Connected PhD.

Wednesday, February 24th
5:00pm – 5:45pm
David Dawson, Academic Advisor
Dori Woods, Associate Professor and Graduate Director of Biology
Jackson Griffiths, PhD Biology Candidate
The Graduate Admissions & Student Services Team

5:45pm – 6:30pm

COS Celebrates Black History Month 2021

In honor of Black History Month, the College of Science would like to feature Black students, faculty, and alumni studying and working in STEM, both within and outside of Northeastern.

Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein

Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein is an Assistant Professor of Physics and Core Faculty Member in Women’s Studies at the University of New Hampshire. She writes monthly columns for the New Scientist and is a contributing columnist for Physics World. She is a topical convenor for Dark Matter: Cosmic Probes in the Snowmass 2021 process and a lead axion wrangler for the NASA STROBE-X Probe Concept Study. Drawing from both physics and astronomy, she responds to deep questions about why everything in the universe is the way it is. Dr. Prescod-Weinstein received the 2017 LGBT+ Physicists Acknowledgement of Excellence Award “for years of dedicated effort in changing physics culture to be more inclusive and understanding toward all marginalized peoples.” In June, Dr. Prescod-Weinstein worked with Black physicist Brian Nord to organize the Strike for Black Lives. Her upcoming book The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred, draws from her personal experience and knowledge as a Black woman theoretical physicist.

Beronda Montgomery

Dr. Montgomery is currently a Michigan State University Foundation Professor and in the last three months alone, her achievements and accolades include being awarded the distinction of Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2020, being nominated as a 2020 Science Defender by the Union of Concerned Scientists, and being recognized as a 2021 Inspiration Award recipient by Michigan State University. Dr. Montgomery was also identified as one of the 100 most inspiring Black scientists in America on Cell Press’ blog Cross Talk. Dr. Montgomery was one of the organizers of #BlackBotanistsWeek and gave a powerful keynote address for #BlackInMicro week, which launched one of her new projects, Lessons from Microbes. Dr. Montgomery’s research and writing prompt self-reflection, outline thoughtful and informed approaches to science, mentoring, and leadership, and inspire a renewed commitment to equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice by identifying key hurdles and next steps in academia.

Dr. Beronda Montgomery’s first book, Lessons from Plants, (coming April 2021) encapsulates her substantial impact on multiple fields, including biochemistry, microbiology, molecular genetics, and science communication, and her innovative approach to mentoring and leadership. Dr. Montgomery has applied her extensive research on how environmental conditions influence the performance of photosynthetic organisms to create numerous insightful publications and presentations on mentoring and leadership, advocating for a shift from gatekeeping to groundskeeping in academic leadership to address persistent inequities and systemic biases in academia, and the use of growth-focused, multi-mentor models to foster the success of all individuals across environments.

Dr. Mary B Walkins

Dr. Mary B. Walkins is originally from Trinidad West Indies.  She earned her Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and Christian Education from Lee University and her Master of Science and Ph.D. in Mathematics from Northeastern University. Excluding the mathematics teaching she did while earning her degrees, she has taught mathematics in the High School, Community College and University for a span of at least 27 years. Most recently she has been the Dundalk Mathematics Coordinator and currently teaches primarily developmental mathematics at the Community College of Baltimore County. Her calling and career have met and she is thrilled to teach students who most times feel that they do not know mathematics and bring them up to a level of proficiency, where they can proceed to and succeed in college mathematics.  In addition to teaching mathematics, Dr. Walkins sings a cappella. Her top five strengths are: Consistency, Harmony, Achiever, Intellection, and Responsibility. Her motto in life is: “If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living shall not be in vain.”

Dr. Leo Whitworth

Dr. Leo Whitworth, LA’71, MBA’94, is a native of Jamaica and two-time Northeastern graduate. Leo graduated with a BA in Biology, Liberal Arts in 1971 and, during his time at NU as an undergraduate, was on the men’s track & field team. He would then earn his DDS from Howard University in 1976 and, later in 1994, earn an Executive MBA at NU. He is a Corporator Emeritus of NU and founder, president, and CEO of Whitworth Dental Association. Since 2008, he has also been a clinical assistant professor of operative dentistry at Tufts University School of Dentistry.

Leo has been recognized with the Medallion Award (1999) and is the recipient of the Community Award from Action for Boston Community Development (1997), the Martin Luther King Award from the Caribbean American Foundation of Boston (1995) and has received citations from the Governor of Massachusetts, the Boston Mayor’s Office, the Boston City Council, the MA State Senate, and the House of Representatives.

Northeastern University runs deep in Leo’s family – several relatives are NU graduates including his wife, daughter, brother, and brother-in-law.

Nathalie Myrthil

Nathalie Myrthil is a second-year Ph.D. student from Boston MA. Based on her various outreach opportunities and academic merit, she was awarded the prestigious Bill-Gates Millennium Scholarship which allowed her to attend and receive her Bachelor’s in chemistry at the College of the Holy Cross and a graduate education. The foundation provided her with the necessary resources to build leadership skills, mentorships, and opportunities to attend conferences that explore areas in STEM. She then worked at AstraZeneca while studying for her Masters of Science in Chemistry at Northeastern University. Now she is a second-year doctoral student at Northeastern University in the Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology (CC&B). Outside of the lab, she holds E-board positions on both the Graduate Student of Color Collective (GSCC), Alliance for Diversity in Science and Engineering (ADSE) Chapter as the community outreach coordinator and is currently the CC&B graduate student representative for the Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Justice Committee.

Crystal McKinnon

Crystal McKinnon is a Principal Associate Scientist at Valo Health, which is a company that has integrated AI into the drug discovery process. She also teaches two graduate level courses at Northeastern University this semester, where she graduated with my Master’s degree in Biotechnology (with a concentration in Pharmaceutical Technologies) in 2020. Prior to her MS, Crystal graduated with her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Fitchburg State University. She has 10 years of industry experience in compound management, biochemical assay design and optimization, and working with high throughput instrumentation and automation. She currently works with 4 fully integrated robots, which are all named after detectives; her favorite one is Sherlock! They help in her day-to-day research into current disease areas, such oncology, neurology, and cardiovascular diseases.

Efosa Enoma

Efosa Enoma is a Nigerian-American born and raised in Long Island, New York. She is a senior at Northeastern University studying Cell and Molecular Biology on the premed track. She is currently the President of the College of Science Student Diversity Advisory Council and serves as the undergraduate representative for Northeastern University College of Science Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Justice Committee. She is also a part of Black Voices Matter Northeastern, a group of Black student organization presidents working together to create lasting, institutional change to better the Black student experience. Efosa is passionate about research and medicine—especially about triple negative breast cancer disparities. In the past 4 years she has worked in 3 labs and presented her research at 4 national conferences. She was given a travel award to present at the Annual Biomedical Research Conference for Minorities and a $3,000 grant from Northeastern University Undergraduate Research and Fellowship Office. Efosa has been the host of two Futures Panels—an event held by her student organization for different science professionals to speak about their career paths to teach its members about the different ways they can use their science degree. In addition to hosting panels, Efosa has been invited to speak on numerous student panels dedicated to motivating incoming students to participate in research.

Camille A. Martin PhD

Co-Founder and CEO of Seaspire Skincare, Martin is a multi-faceted entrepreneur with experience transferring technology developed at the academic research scale through the pipeline towards commercialization. Her research journey began as an enthusiastic college freshman fascinated with cosmetic chemistry and fueled by her desire to blend the worlds of beauty and science. Martin pursued a doctoral degree in Analytical Chemistry and Biomaterials Science at Northeastern University where her work was focused on studying structural and adaptive color in nature as a source of inspiration for designing bio-inspired materials that can be applied for the next-generation of skincare products. In September 2017, Martin participated in National Science Foundation Innovation – Corps program where she worked on evaluating the commercialization potential of the technologies developed in the Biomaterials Design Group led by Professor Leila Deravi which resulted in the creation of Seaspire! Seaspire is a technology-backed skincare company that develops state-of-the art products using ingredients inspired by nature to make the world healthier, safer, and more sustainable. This early-stage company has received funding from The Engine and additional support from the Johnson & Johnson JLabs Incubator and Massachusetts Life Science Center. Together, with their team of scientists and clinicians, and inspired by the vast biodiversity of the ocean, Seaspire is working to improve the user experience of daily use skincare products by re-designing traditional formulations to include bio-based ingredients in convenient delivery systems that are safe for all people and the environment. The core technology of the company is based on a class of biological pigments Xanthochrome® , an organic ingredient that performs as a UV-filter, SPF-booster, UV filter-stabilizer, and antioxidant with activity that rivals gold standards (vitamin C and E) but with increased stability. Pipeline applications include novel sun protection, consumer therapeutic skincare, and cosmetic products.

Alum Q&A: Kathleen Watt ’11

Kathleen Watt works for Insurance Brokerage Firm in New York City. Katie was a Mathematic major, Class of 2011

What made you interested in studying mathematics at Northeastern? Why do you believe this is a great choice for a major?

“I am a little bit different in that I went into college searches knowing that I wanted to be an actuary. I really liked math and I knew it was something I wanted to study in college. When I had done preliminary research on what careers there were for mathematics majors, teaching always came up as a popular option, but that wasn’t something I was interested in pursuing. During the various college information sessions I attended, I realized I wasn’t 100% confident that I wanted to become an actuary. When I found Northeastern and learned about their co-op program, it seemed like a great option to explore what I wanted to do. The co-op program was the reason I chose math specifically at Northeastern. I think there are so many different opportunities and ways you can use your math degree which makes it a very flexible major.”

What opportunities can you pursue as a mathematics major?

“A lot of people I went to college with pursued teaching and did the five -year PlusOne
master’s program at Northeastern. Many also go on to graduate work: getting a master’s or PhD. There is a lot of coding or heavy data analysis which can lead towards the actuarial side. Some classmades went onto completely different careers such as law school or engineering programs because at the end of the day, math teaches you how to think and to problem-solve which is useful in so many skill sets.”

Are there any specific memories from your time at Northeastern that had a lasting impact on you? Any that influenced your career choices?

“Northeastern is where I made some of my best friends and where I grew into myself. It was also the first time I lived in a major city and used public transportation on an every day basis. From that perspective, Northeastern gave me the opportunities to experience all of these things and decide how I wanted to shape my lifestyle. All three co-ops helped me learn about the working world and what I would and wouldn’t want from a career path.”

While attending Northeastern, you completed three co-ops. How did each of your co-op experiences impact your career choices?

“As I said, I thought I wanted to be an actuary and live in a big city, so my first co-op was a dream come true from the perspective that I lived and worked in New York City. It was during during the financial crisis of 2008, so it was an eye-opening experience to be in an office and see those who work around you lose their jobs. It was a dose of reality on multiple levels to learn that it’s a business and you have to do what is best for you because companies will do what’s best for them. My second co-op was in the public sector because I worked for the government. It felt more like a community: everyone was friendly and worked more or less toward the common good. I realized for me and my personality style that the corporate ladder I wanted to climb wouldn’t be in that environment; however, it was a great experience for me to have and learn that I wanted to work in the private sector. I chose my first two co-ops leading up to my third to help maximize the opportunity for employment after graduation. Whether you have a good experience or not, you can always take something from it.”

How did you approach your co-op search? Is there anything you would do differently if you were a student today?

“I had a very methodical approach because my whole college career was targeted towards being an actuary. At the time, it was very hard to get an actuary co-op for your first placement. The employers required you either pass an exam or have prior experience, but I didn’t have either. So, the first co-op I completed was business related so I could acquire finance experience—actuaries are math heavy, but also financial related. My second co-op was with the department of defense and seemed interesting. All three of my co-ops had components that allowed me to learn more about the workforce and about career options in general. If I were to do anything differently today, I would spend several hours reading job descriptions because even if it’s not directly related to your major, you can still learn from the experience. Don’t think that because you don’t have enough skills that you shouldn’t apply, the worst they can say is no.”

Could you explain what you currently do for a living? What is a normal day at work like?

“I was an actuary after school for a few years, but then I moved to New York City and I now work as an associate for a life insurance brokerage firm. We work with ultra-high net worth individuals and family offices with their estate planning goals. Before I was an actuary, I worked at a life insurance firm and we sold a product which was life insurance policies. Now, I work for a brokerage firm which means that we look at all the life insurance companies and all the products they have to offer, we know the client’s goals and we help find the best product for them based on their needs. We aren’t tied to one company so we can find what works best for each individual client. A normal day for me is about 30% analysis. I use my knowledge of math and insurance to look at a client’s life insurance portfolio (or lack thereof) and try to find a policy that could be good for them. The next 30% of my role involves answering client phone calls, answering questions, and attending meetings. Finally, the last 40% of my responsibilities involves project management – making sure that when we are in meetings, all action items are accounted for, making sure we are meeting time lines, helping different department scollaborate and ensuring things are progressing smoothly. My job is super dynamic which is why I love it; it’s very different day in and day out. All my jobs and co-ops—even my lifeguard position in high school—helped me reach this point in my career because I learned different skills to apply later. For example, if I have a difficult client, I understand how to approach them because it is similar to having an angry parent at the pool whose child is in “time out”. You continue learning things from each experience, even if it does not seem directly related.”

What is your key piece of advice for anyone attending Northeastern?

“Take advantage of all of the co-ops because that is why you’re at Northeastern and make sure to learn something at every co-op. Build your network, find mentors, and be flexible. Northeastern is building a great list of alumni in many different cities and the more connections you make in school will make the world feel smaller.”

Co-op and COVID: Working at Indigo Agriculture

Mira Rauch is a fourth-year undergraduate student studying Environmental Science with a concentration in conservation science and a minor in East Asian Studies. In Spring of 2020, she began a co-op at Indigo Agriculture. We reached out to hear about her experience. 

Could you tell us about your co-op journey?

“I’m currently on my third co-op, but during my second co-op, the pandemic hit and it changed the course of that co-op when everything seemed to  turn upside down. I started at the university as a Biology major and that was fun, but during my second year, I realized that was not what I was interested in pursuing. Following my first co-op in quality control at Alnylum Pharmaceuticals, I switched my major to Environmental Science and found my next co-op at Indigo Agriculture in Charlestown as a field scientist. I did a little bit of lab work but most of my co-op was on the computer doing biostatistics in analysis and some management. I worked with seeds that were coated in a special substance containing microbes—I always called it “yogurt for plants”. We would coat seeds in microbes that we knew they liked in order to be able to grow 10% more cotton or corn or 20% more wheat in places that were colder or had a dryer season than usual. My job was to manage the scientific trials to figure out where different microbes worked the best and on which crops they had the best results. I also ran the soil sampling program and did lab work during the pandemic. My current job is at MIT Energy Initiative where I am the graduate education assistant helping to write content for the energy-based master’s program. I’ve always sought to try different things with my co-ops and I think that has worked out for me.”

What did a regular day of work at Indigo Agriculture look like for you before COVID-19?

“There were about 10 people on my field sciences team and I was the team’s first co-op. I began work each day at 9 am and really enjoyed the interconnected workplace culture. I was at the end of the pipeline where I tested the microbes in real world settings.. My manager and I would check in twice a week for about an hour and he would assign me projects, most were long term and lasted from a week to a month. Most of our work since I began in January was looking at the previous seasons to analyze and make decisions about planting for the coming season since they would have to start planting again in March. We had 25-30 co-ops across the teams which was great. We would all have lunch together, hang out, get coffee together. We also had all hands meetings where the entire company would get together and leadership would field questions from all of us. I learned that when working in a biotech company, you are the pioneer of your product and the pioneer of what you’re working with.”

What did a regular day of work look like for you after COVID-19?

“In March we were getting ready to start shipping out for the spring planting season which is arguably the most important time for an agriculture company. We had to make sure everything was running like a well-oiled machine. We got an email from the CEO saying we had to work from home tomorrow. We thought it was going to be a week, maybe two weeks, and then everything would be back to normal. I grabbed just two things from my workspace and never went back. Fortunately, our team was familiar with zoom because we already had remote employees. My manager and I didn’t have a check in call for about a month because things were so turned around. To keep our spirits up, and remain connected, we did fun weekly questions on our Slack channel where we would ask and answer random questions like ‘what does your desk look like?’

How did COVID-19 impact your work?

“I ran our soil sampling project from my home which meant I got FedEx shipments of envelopes and had to hand write two hundred labels onto bags with QR codes that were registered to my house. Indigo extended my co-op through August and I was assigned a project where I took the wheat that we harvested from the past season and I placed it into a little instrument that would tell me how many carbs, oil, and protein it contained. In July I went back to the Indigo lab which was felt bizarre. We had to wear masks all day, complete a Wellness Check similar to the one Northeastern uses, and all snacks were made to be individually packaged. Only science teams were allowed to return, so we would each have our own lab bench and no more than two or three people in the same room.”

What were your work expectations and how did that change over time?

“One of the work expectations I had when I started was traveling for work. That clearly did not happen and was cancelled early on. It was heartbreaking because I was really looking forward to some sort of travel element in my second co-op. Instead, we did a lot of zoom calls to try and keep business moving forward from afar. I also expected to be able to spend more time with the other co-ops but once we went remote, it was really hard to stay connected.”

How do you think this experience is going to help your plans for the future? What lessons did you take away from this experience?

“I learned that I value having time at home and I would really consider taking a job where there is a hybrid opportunity, even after the global pandemic is over. I like to spend time with my pets and make a warm lunch instead of having to pack a cold one. In the future if I had the space to have a home office, I would absolutely take the chance to work at home two or three times a week. Additionally, I saw the importance of team communication more now than ever before. During my first week at Indigo I had to attend a one-on-one meetings for thirty minutes where I learned what my teammate did for work, what my role would be and then share what I hoped to get out of this experience and it was so helpful. I think it was  so important to have this casual conversation over coffee and I think it’s worth it to push your employer or team to facilitate connection because it is very isolating to work from home. At the end of the day, we are all people who stare at the computer all day so it’s important to emphasize our other passions and activities.”

Is there anything you learned from your last co-op that you could apply to your current co-op?

“Definitely virtual coffee, I think that’s for everyone. I know it feels awkward, but tell your manager and make one on one appointments to get to know everyone on the team. Lean into the discomfort of not having water cooler talk. Secondly, something I wish I could give to every single co-op who is nervous is confidence. When I entered my first and second co-op, I was acutely aware that I know less than every single person I work with and that’s okay, but over time at Indigo my team would ask me questions and lift me up. It was really enriching to feel like my opinions mattered even though I was a co-op. Also, if you are the new person, you should lean into being the new person. Ask plenty of questions because you’re new and you’re not expected to know everything. If you’re really embarrassed, throw in “I’m taking a class on this next semester but we haven’t gotten there yet, can you walk through this with me?” and they’re going to love it. Lastly, write down everything you do at co-op so you can add it to your resume later on. Keep a notebook so you have a list for reference in the future.”

Black History Month Science Symposium

During Black History Month, the College of Science celebrates both the history and the many contributions of Black scientists. As a capstone to the College’s month-long celebration, the Black History Month Science Symposium brings together alumni, students, and faculty alike to highlight the many achievements of some Northeastern College of Science graduates: Dr. Camille Martin, PhD ‘20, Ms. Crystal McKinnon, MS ‘20, Dr. Mary Walkins, MS’89, PhD’94, and Dr. E. Leo Whitworth LA’71, MBA’94.

Dean Hazel Sive will open this informative panel with current students, Efosa Enoma, S’21, and Nathalie Myrthil, MS’19, PhD’24, moderating.

Closed Captioning.  Live closed captioning services for this event can be made available upon advanced request (2 weeks).

This event is complimentary but registration is required.

All registrants will receive an email with information on accessing this virtual event. Register and learn more about the event here

Innovation in Self Development + Wellness: A WISE Webinar

Explore the intersections of entrepreneurship and personal development with the Women’s Interdisciplinary Society of Entrepreneurship at Northeastern University! On Saturday, Feb. 13, our community will have the chance to hear from experts on investing in yourself as a young professional, and letting your mind rest and reflect during times of uncertainty. At the start of the webinar, we will be leading a discussion on tackling imposter syndrome early in your career with Christmas Hutchinson, Career Confidence Coach and Author of The Resilient Mind: A Field Guide to a Healthier Way of Life. After that, we will meet Olivia Bowser, Founder of Liberate Studio, the world’s first mental wellness studio. Olivia will touch on her experience being a founder in the wellness industry and will guide us through an activity to show us the power of mindfulness and how to implement it into our lives. Finally, attendees will get the chance to interact with each other and discuss a range of topics within the wellness world during our Self Care Coffee Chat session.

RSVP here:

My Co-op Experience: Wrann Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital

In January 2020, I started my first co-op as a research technician at Dr. Christiane Wrann’s laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital. The research at the Wrann lab focuses on investigating the role of an exercise hormone, irisin, as a therapeutic for Alzheimer’s disease using mice models. We also study how the deletion of irisin’s gene impact the progression of Alzheimer’s.

I was involved in understanding the genotype characteristics of transgenic mice undergoing different behavioral or viral injection treatments. I have contributed to the project by performing experiments, presenting results, discussing the necessary next steps for the research, keeping track of inventory and editing grants/papers. I was also in charge of reviewing journal’s guidelines to format our paper accordingly.

Mid-March, Northeastern closed campus due to the pandemic and I returned home to Florida. During this stressful situation, Dr. Wrann and MGH allowed me to stay in the system. Although the work became remote, this led me to learn more computational aspects of research such as image and statistical data analysis. Specifically, I learned the software GraphPad Prism in great depth so that I was given charge of preparing data analysis and 100+ figures for a research paper that is currently under revision. In June, once laboratories increased capacity, I returned to Boston and extended my co-op until Fall classes started.

The team of research technicians and post-doctorate fellows at the Wrann lab were extremely enthusiastic about teaching and guiding me in my scientific journey. They were always happy to explain the science behind techniques and the reasoning of the research. Therefore, my experience surpassed my expectations of being exposed to wet lab techniques. I felt that I was contributing to the basic scientific process of the research.

This experience was an excellent introduction to translational research methods for neurological problems, preparing me for my future goal of entering an MD/PhD program. The co-op program only affirmed that I enjoy being part of the academic process of medicine. I have started my second co-op at Northeastern’s Action Lab under the Schafer Research Scholarship and I am excited for another exceptional learning experience for the next 6 months.

Don’t worry about the koi fish on campus this winter–they’re just chilling

Tucked into the heart of Northeastern’s Boston campus is a tiny oasis from the hustle and bustle of city life. A koi pond, located between the Curry Student Center and Robinson Hall, sparkles in the sun and gurgles as a small waterfall splashes into it. Vibrant, nearly fluorescent koi flash just under the surface.

But what happens to these fish—a dozen or so live in the pond—during the winter?

“They chill out,” says William Detrich, professor of marine and environmental sciences at Northeastern. He means it literally.

Read the full story at [email protected]

The Ribosome: Is it the Key to the Next Generation of Antibiotic Therapies?

Imagine a novel antibiotic treatment that instantly kills bacteria and poses zero risks to humans. This therapy may be closer to reality than we once thought possible, thanks to the Whitford Research Group. Their recent publication in the esteemed journal Nature Communications highlights opportunities for the next generation of antibiotics through the study of the ribosome. The ribosome is a biomolecular machine responsible for producing the proteins that make up all living organisms. Every cell requires ribosomes to survive, including pathogens, like bacteria, that can be harmful to human health. Shutting down a ribosome means rendering a cell unable to survive – while bad news for destructive bacteria remains good news for scientists. A team at Northeastern University may have found a way to harness the functionality of the ribosome, elucidating a tremendous opportunity for the development of novel broad-spectrum antibiotics.

The team’s most recent published research, “A steric gate controls P/E hybrid-state formation of tRNA on the ribosome” was performed at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center (MHPCC). Funded by the National Science Foundation since 2014, Dr. Mariana Levi, Kelsey Walak, and Dr. Paul Whitford of Northeastern performed hundreds of simulations on structural elements of the ribosome using high performance computers. Their research focuses both on understanding the structure and function of the ribosome as well as finding key features that control its motion, with the ultimate goal of using them as experimental targets for potential antibiotics. “This is the first study where we actually have a strong signature of an antibiotic target,” said Dr. Whitford.

Harnessing the power of high-performance computing, a tool used for intensive computational tasks, the team developed a model that has identified a region on the ribosome unique to bacteria but absent from humans. Targeting this region pharmaceutically could kill bacterial cells without harming human ones. This finding is historic: “[Most previous studies] didn’t know where to look…it might take a thousand graduate student years to try out all of the possible regions that could be important…We’ve reduced this by maybe 95 percent,” says Dr Whitford. Working with the Research Computing Group at Northeastern, they went through hundreds of simulations to narrow down this target region using an in-house model developed by Dr. Levi. She credits the success of this model to the resources available to researchers for free at the MHPCC: “Our lab is our computer, so we really have to have a deeper understanding of what’s going on.”

This study is just the foundation for what is yet to come from this group. “We have something to say and add to the discussion,” says Dr. Levi. Their contributions extend not only to the community of ribosomal study but to those looking to leverage these innovative solutions to treat bacterial disease. “It’s much more than just computational simulation,” Dr. Levi adds, “This is just the beginning.”

Computer Simulation of Ribosome. [“An in-house computer model uncovered a location on the ribosome that is unique to bacteria. Targeting this location could allow antibiotics to disable bacterial ribosomes without harming human ones.”/Image Credit: Whitford Research Group]

Human-Robot Interaction

Aude Billard, a professor of Robotics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology on Lausanne (EPFL), will be the fifth guest speaker in the Boston Action Club‘s speaker series

Zoom Information – TBD

Bimanual Coordination and Impaired Coordination in Stroke

Robert Sainburg, a professor of Kinesiology and Neurology from Pennsylvania State University, will join the Boston Action Club in the fourth installment of their speaker series.

Zoom Information – TBD

Neuromechanical Principles of Locomotor Learning: From Adaption to Rehabilitation

James Finley, PhD, an associate professor of Biokinesiology and Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California, speaks in the third installment of the Boston Action Club‘s speaker series.

Zoom Information – TBD