With this award, the Chemistry of Life Processes Program in the Chemistry Division is funding Dr. Aaron T. Smith of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County to study the transport of iron (Fe) in bacteria. Iron is essential for the survival of almost all organisms on the planet, including those organisms made of only one cell and humans. While the biological acquisition of some iron (Fe+3) is well studied, the acquisition of other iron species (Fe+2) is poorly understood. This research seeks to understand how Fe+2 is transported across the membrane of bacteria which are present in the human body and affect human health. The results of this research could help scientists design novel antibiotics that control bacterial infections. The graduate students who conduct this research learn how to handle and study metalloproteins that are sensitive to air in order to pinpoint atomic-level details of iron transport. This project increases diversity and inclusion of underrepresented individuals within the field through an introduction of freshman and sophomore undergraduates to bioinorganic chemistry, the development of bioinorganic laboratory experiments in the chemistry curriculum, and the design and implementation of a dedicated upper-level bioinorganic chemistry course.

The overarching goal of this research is to elucidate the mechanism by which the three-protein system Feo mediates the transport of Fe(II) across the membrane of bacteria. An important aspect of this research is the focus on recombinant proteins, including the intact FeoB, which is a complex membrane protein and the central player of the Feo system. Moreover, this research uses recombinant, soluble FeoA and FeoC, putative interaction partners of FeoB, to determine the regulation of Fe(II) transport. This research makes use of spectroscopy (electron absorption, circular dichroism, EPR, and X-ray absorption), biochemistry, and structural biology (X-ray crystallography) methods to determine electronic structure, three-dimensional structure, and the dynamics of this process. This research provides targets for the design of small molecules to control iron transport, a process essential for bacteria.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Chemistry (CHE)
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Catalina Achim
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University of Maryland Baltimore County
United States
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