Drs. McCarthy & Wachira Awarded $550k for Biomaterials Research

Image of a microscope
Image by Konstantin Kolosov from Pixabay

Dr. Pumtiwitt McCarthy
Dr. Pumtiwitt McCarthy

Dr. Pumtiwitt McCarthy (Principal Investigator), Associate Professor of Chemistry, and Dr. James Wachira (Co-Principal Investigator), Associate Professor of Biology, have been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to carry out their project, "Excellence in Research: Elucidating Factors that Affect Substrate Promiscuity of Bacterial Capsule Polymerases for Synthesis of Novel Polysaccharides." The project aims to harness the biosynthetic power of a bacterial enzyme as a new potential route to the synthesis of novel polysaccharides.

Dr. James Wachira
Dr. James Wachira

Dr. McCarthy and Dr. Wachira's collaborative research combines computational modeling and simulations with laboratory experimentation to gain a better understanding of how bacteria synthesize extra cellular polysaccharides. This knowledge will have applications in the design of new biomaterials. Synthetic polysaccharide biomaterials have a wide array of applications across many fields including medicine, where they have been in drug delivery systems and engineering cartilage and tissue, and environmental remediation, where they have been used for removing heavy metals from the environment. To provide additional expertise to the project, Dr. Robert Woods, Associate Director of the NSF Division of Materials Research-funded GlycoMIP and Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Georgia is a collaborator on this work. Dr. Woods, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry, is an expert in computational modeling and developer of the GLYCAM force fields for carbohydrate modeling.

The project will also include training Morgan State students in biomaterials research and advanced computational methods through undergraduate and graduate student research opportunities and through incorporating advanced, research-based bioinformatics activities into Biochemistry courses. In addition, I high school intern will be trained at Morgan in these techniques. The project will thus help train underrepresented minorities in in STEM and strengthen the competitiveness of Morgan graduates for positions in the STEM workforce. The award will provide a total of $550,000 in support for the project over the period of June 1, 2021 to May 31, 2024.