On November 27, Nature Communications published a scientific article coauthored by Olive Burata, ’14 BS, ’18 MS, Biochemistry. The article, entitled “The structural basis of promiscuity in small multidrug resistance transporters,” studies the small drug resistance (SMR) family, which contain protein drug exporters that help bacteria become resistant to toxic chemicals. Burata, a PhD candidate at the University of Michigan, said the publication demonstrates how scientists can unlock how SMR proteins work to help bacteria survive in the presence of antibiotics, antiseptics or disinfectant. The study provided the first high-resolution image of one of the protein members of this family that will allow scientists to study the protein in very close detail.
“This publication really brought together all the multidisciplinary scientific training I have obtained from my two mentors: Dr. Alberto Rascón from SJSU and Dr. Randy Stockbridge from the University of Michigan,” said Burata. “Both skills and techniques that I have learned from each of their labs have significantly contributed to my rapid understanding of this work. Although early in my career, this work alone has already encompassed skills I have learned as a biochemist, biophysicist, structural biologist, microbiologist and organic chemist.”
Burata said the multidrug-resistance bacteria research could have a big impact on one of the biggest side effects of the COVID-19 pandemic—that is, the increasing amounts of resistance bacteria being produced. As people increasingly rely on disinfectants and antiseptic products like hand sanitizers, 70 percent alcohol and Lysol and bleach products, they are not only killing any COVID-19 viral particles but also exposing the bacteria to the products, “giving them ample opportunities to become resistant to them—a double-edged sword.” As a member of Rascón’s lab at San José State, she studied enzymes called proteases that are similar to the ones associated with causing viral pneumonia as a result of COVID-19 infection.
“There are a lot of labs right now trying to find ways to make these enzymes force the virus to be less deadly,” she said, adding that her experience in Rascón’s lab introduced her to enzymology and ignited a passion for learning. “Six years ago, Dr. Rascón first introduced his research work on mosquito protease enzymology during the first day of class in my last semester of undergrad. I fell in love with how amazing enzymology was and its simple application in helping human lives. I had no research experience, my grades were mediocre, nor did I have any plans after graduating, but I immediately reached out to Dr. Rascón on that same day to ask if I could join his lab. I became a different person that day with a strong sense of determination. My pre-undergrad self would have never imagined coming this far (2,000 miles from California) in pursuing my passion and having constant support from my mentors, family and friends.”