Associate Professor of Chemistry Yan Kung has received a three-year $362,500 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study enzymes that play key roles in the production of isoprenoids, a class of natural compounds with a variety of uses and functions, including many drugs that are used to treat a number of diseases from cancer to malaria.
The biological production of isoprenoid drugs and their derivatives is now possible by expressing enzymes of the mevalonate pathway, which catalyzes a series of chemical reactions that produce the two simple C5 compounds that are the universal isoprenoid precursors.
Using X-ray crystallography as a chief technique, this work will unveil the three-dimensional molecular structures of key mevalonate pathway enzymes. In addition, through further biochemical and computational study of the activities and inhibition profiles of these enzymes, Kung’s research will obtain novel mechanistic and structural insight into enzyme catalysis and regulation.
Not only may this work enable the creation and use of modified enzymes for isoprenoid drug biosynthesis, it may also lead to the development of new antimicrobial drugs that target mevalonate pathway enzymes in human pathogens.
The grant funding will be used to purchase equipment and supplies needed for the research as well as to fund summer research positions for students working in Kung’s lab.
In the seven and a half years Kung has been at Bryn Mawr, he has mentored more than 15 undergraduate and four graduate students in his lab. For example, this academic year, Kung is mentoring two graduate students and four undergraduate students. After gaining these research experiences, students have gone on to pursue a broad range of activities post-graduation, including graduate school in biochemistry, medical school, M.D./Ph.D. programs, research assistantships, jobs in the biotechnology industry, and law school.
Learn more about the Kung Lab on its website.
Bryn Mawr’s Chemistry Department has a more than century-long tradition of combining high quality, visible research programs with excellent teaching. The department seeks to provide a supportive and rigorous curriculum at the undergraduate and graduate level to students having diverse preparation and diverse goals.