Inorganic Chemistry Seminar: Professor Helen E. Blackwell, University of Wisconsin–Madison

Helen Blackwell

Photo Credit: UW Communications

Thu June 1st 2023, 3:00 - 4:00pm
Sapp Center Auditorium 111

About the Seminar

Chemical strategies to intercept and alter bacterial communication pathways

Our research is broadly focused on the design, synthesis, and application of non-native ligands that can intercept bacterial quorum sensing and provide new insights into its role in host/microbe interactions and the environment. At high cell densities, many common bacteria use quorum sensing to switch from a single cell existence to that of a multicellular community. This lifestyle switch is significant; only in groups will pathogenic bacteria turn on virulence pathways and grow into impervious communities called biofilms that are the bases of chronic biofouling and infections. We have developed a range of non-native analogs of autoinducer signals that can block or activate quorum sensing pathways, some with high selectivities, potencies, and chemical stabilities. These molecules provide a novel approach to study quorum sensing with both spatial and temporal control in a range of settings. We have applied our chemical tools in vitro and in vivo to investigate quorum sensing as an anti-infective target. Ongoing work is focused on understanding their interactions with key protein receptors involved in quorum sensing pathways, with native signals, and with membranes. In this talk, I will introduce my lab’s research approach and highlight our most recent results.

About the Speaker

Helen Blackwell is a native of Shaker Heights, Ohio (USA). She attended Oberlin College in Ohio for her undergraduate studies, pursued her graduate studies in organic chemistry at the California Institute of Technology (Ph.D. with Bob Grubbs), and performed postdoctoral research in chemical biology at Harvard University (with Stuart Schreiber). She has been a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin–Madison since 2002, where she is currently the Norman C. Craig Professor of Chemistry and Associate Chair for the Graduate Program. Helen leads a research team at the interface of organic chemistry and bacteriology. Their broad goal is to use chemical tools to unravel the roles of bacterial cell-cell communication in disease and the environment. Helen and her team have received numerous awards for their research, including most recently a Research Corporation STAR Award and the UW–Madison Campus Award for Mentoring Undergraduates in Research, Scholarly & Creative Activities (2020).

Host: Bob Waymouth