3 October 2013

Organic synthesis chemistry to uncover weakness of immune defense

Chemistry appointment

There are infections we can cure, and there are those where we don't stand a chance. Diseases like anthrax, blood poisoning and meningitis which are all caused by so called Gram positive bacteria. Christian Marcus Pedersen has just been employed as an associate professor at the Department of Chemistry. Using chemical synthesis of naturally occurring compounds he aims to contribute to the understanding of interactions between Gram positive bacteria, and the human immune defense. This he hopes will eventually give us better prevention in the form of vaccines, better cures in the form of antibiotics and faster diagnosis.

New hire is chemist with a capital C

Immune response and bacteria all sounds as if research belongs in the field of biology or even medicine. But the new professor describes himself as a chemist with a capital C.

“I am a synthesis chemist. If things get too biological I prefer to collaborate with others”, says Christian Marcus Pedersen.

Using test tubes to understand bacteria

Pedersen may, however, be slightly more modest than he really ought to be. The classical synthesis chemistry where one creates new compounds by adding known ones in a test-tube has already helped Pedersen to a breakthrough of some standing. In 2011 he was the first ever to create a synthetic version of the bacterial toxin from Gram positive bacteria.

Read earlier:

88 synthesis steps to copy natural poison

Viewed purely as synthesis chemistry this was an enormous achievement. The toxin is as large as it is complex and it took Pedersen 88 synthesis steps, that is, individual steps in the recipe, before Christian Marcus Pedersen and partners had their copied poison. Now he plans to reproduce the success with other bacteria, trying to examine the structures in harmless or even wholesome bacteria.

“Bacteria such as the Bifido bacteria in yoghurt have structures very similar to the Gram positive toxin but they are not poisonous. If we can understand why the body reacts differently to similar compounds from diverse classes of bacteria we would understand a great deal more about the immune system”, explains Christian Marcus Pedersen.

The newly appointed associate professor has worked for the last five years as a post. Doc. And lately as an assistant professor, at the Department of Chemistry in Mikael Bols’ group. Pedersen is 33 years old. He has a wife and two children.