Cluster 4: Chemical Biology: Can you make the next billion-dollar antibiotic?


Instructors: Dr. David Van Vranken & Dr. Pavan Kadandale

Prerequisites: One year of high school biology and one year of high school chemistry

This cluster is for students who want to learn more about how the tools of chemistry can be used to understand and modify biological systems.

Course Description:

Antibiotics have saved millions of lives since the discovery of penicillin in 1943. However, their increased usage has also led to the development of antibiotic resistant infections. Simultaneously, the number of new antibiotics being released dropped from 16 in 1983 to 3 in 2004. This set of circumstances – increasing resistance, and decreased development of new antibiotics – led the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to predict that, by 2050, around 10 million Americans would die annually from antibiotic-resistant infections. In 2014, healthcare costs associated with antibiotic resistance infections were about $40 billion. Antibiotic resistance is, therefore, an enormous problem in need of a solution.

In this course, you will have the opportunity to learn the chemistry behind the synthesis of new antibiotics. You will then use your knowledge to design, synthesize and purify novel compounds that may have antibiotic properties. You will learn how to design experiments to test compounds for antibiotic properties, and then carry out these tests using the molecule you synthesized. You will then watch the development of resistance to your new molecule, and study whether this resistance works only for your molecule, or whether it would work on other antibiotics as well. Throughout the summer, you will be challenged to think deeply about organic chemistry, biology, and how these fields intersect in life. If things work out, you could end up synthesizing the next billion-dollar antibiotic, and help save millions of lives. At the very least, you will get to name the molecules you synthesize!