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NMSU researcher studies zinc transporters to inhibit antibiotic resistant bacteria


“We are studying the structures of bacterial zinc transporter proteins,” said Yukl, an associate professor in NMSU’s Department Chemistry and Biochemistry. “This helps us determine how they function, and how we can build molecules that will disrupt that function to treat bacterial infections. This is especially important as a number of bacteria have become resistant to all or nearly all currently available antibiotics.”

In the human body, zinc is scarce. Bacteria need zinc to survive. They transport these essential metals across the cell membrane, and to do this they require protein transporters. If the zinc transport systems of disease-causing bacteria can be disrupted, they will no longer be able to establish an infection.

Yukl’s NIH grant is a four-year R01grant, among the most prized grants provided by the agency, since it supports virtually all costs associated with medically relevant research projects that are conducted over a 3- to 5-year timeframe.

“Since June 1, we’ve been back in the lab working in shifts of three,” Yukl said. “This required that we submit a plan to the university detailing how we would be practicing social distancing, wearing face coverings and following enhanced decontamination procedures. Students working with me in the lab this summer include a postdoc, three graduate students and one undergraduate. The undergrad is working on a summer project funded through an administrative supplement to the R01 grant.”

Students working with Yukl on this research were grateful to be back in the lab this summer.

“I missed the thrill of doing experiments and thinking critically to find answers,” said Ady Melendez Molina, a graduate student. “Being in the laboratory makes me happy because I learn from my advisor and colleagues and use my energy for something beneficial.”

Yukl and his team are working to find ways to use these zinc transporter inhibitors to create new antibiotics to stop resistant bacteria.

“We are also hopeful that we can make these antibiotics more specific, as most bacteria in the human body are helpful and have a dramatic impact on overall health,” Yukl said. “The impact of such a development would be significant, given the large and increasing numbers antibiotic resistant infections.”