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Winthrop professor, students studying metal ions in cells

A $35,000 grant from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement will allow a Winthrop University chemistry professor and his research assistants to learn more about an organism that could lead to advancements in human medicine.

Every organism relies on metal ions to make cells work correctly, professor Nick Grossoehme said. But if the metal concentrations are not controlled, the metal can become toxic and kill cells .

Grossoehme's research will study how one organism - streptomyces coelicolor - regulates potentially toxic levels of metal ions in its cells.

Rising Winthrop seniors Becca Toor and Paisley Trantham are helping him in the lab, performing "complementary" research projects that aid in answering Grossoehme's overall research questions.

The organism is also "evolutionarily linked to an organism that can kill us" - one that causes tuberculosis, said Grossoehme (GROSS'-o-me).

Understanding more about this organism could open up pathways of understanding about more serious organisms and how they impact us, he said.

Natural and efficient

Their research is still in the development phase so it's hard to say what its impact will be, Grossoehme said.Possibilities include finding a new way to produce antibiotics in a natural and efficient way.

The "machinery" the organism uses to regulate metal toxicity could serve as a "natural product" that could contribute to making antibiotics for humans, Grossoehme said.

While some antibiotics are manufactured synthetically , the organism Grossoehme is studying naturally occurs in the soil.

"We eat copious amounts of it already, so it's not going to be toxic to us," he said.

Lab experience

The grant,will help pay for lab materials and summer research opportunities for students for up to three years.

"Research is the pinnacle to an undergraduate education," Grossoehme said. "It allows you to take what you learned in the classroom and apply it to something actually useful."

Toor and Trantham agree.

Toor said she plans to attend pharmacy school, but she might take the research path.

"I'm trying to further my knowledge in many areas," she said.

Trantham, whose major is forensic chemistry, said he plans to go on to a master's program and work in a crime lab one day.

The lab experience will lay the groundwork for the next level. Learning in a lab is "a lot different" than in a classroom, Trantham said.

"It makes things make more sense."