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Congratulations to Daniel Kahne of Harvard University, Winner of the 2019 Gordon Hammes Lectureship Award

Professor Daniel Kahne will present the Gordon Hammes Lecture and receive his award during the ACS Fall 2019 National Meeting & Exposition in San Diego, CA. The symposium organized in his honor will be held on Sunday, August 25, beginning at 1 P.M. in the Grand Ballroom, Section 5, of the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina. The Reception, in the same room, will follow immediately after Professor Kahne’s lecture.

Everyone is welcome to attend.

The Gordon Hammes Lectureship Award is sponsored jointly by Biochemistry and the ACS Division of Biological Chemistry. The Award seeks to recognize and honor a single individual whose scientific contributions have had a significant and lasting impact on research at the interface of chemistry and biology.

The 2019 award goes to Professor Daniel Kahne of Harvard University, whose laboratory studies the chemistry and biology of antibiotic resistance.

“Kahne’s studies on the mechanisms and machines used to assemble the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria are paradigmatic and lay a foundation for the discovery of fundamentally new antibiotics,” says Alanna Schepartz, Editor-in-Chief of Biochemistry. “He is an awesome choice for the 2019 Gordon Hammes Lectureship Award.”

Professor Kahne trained with Gilbert Stork at Columbia University. He began his independent career at Princeton as a synthetic chemist, where he developed a novel method to assemble glycosidic linkages for use in complex carbohydrate synthesis.  This method allowed him to systematically alter the identity of the carbohydrate attached to vancomycin and generate new derivatives that kill vancomycin-resistant bacteria. These studies of glycopeptide antibiotics led to a longstanding interest in Gram-negative physiology.  The defining feature of Gram-negative bacteria is the outer membrane that excludes antibiotics.  Nothing was known about how this extraordinary cell envelope is assembled and, for the past 15 years at Harvard, Kahne has studied the protein machines that polymerize and crosslink peptidoglycan, that insert beta-barrel proteins into the outer membrane, and that assembles lipopolysaccharide on the outer membrane surface.  Kahne developed sophisticated in vitro and whole-cell strategies to study how these multi-protein membrane complexes work in the hope they could become new targets for antibiotics.

Read a Brief Interview with the 2019 Gordon Hammes Lectureship Award Winner, Daniel Kahne

Why did you choose to pursue this field of research?

I am not sure.  I was trained as a synthetic organic chemist, and I came to biochemistry because I got interested in a problem, and it seemed like biochemistry was the best way to answer my question.  Biochemistry allows me to combine my training in chemistry and my interests in biology.

What are you working on now?

I am interested in how cells assemble their outer membrane.  We study this problem using Gram-negative bacteria as the model but the problem is relevant to all cells because chloroplasts and mitochondria come from (in the ancient past) Gram-negative bacteria and also have an outer membrane.  Some of the machinery that we study that builds these outer membranes is conserved so the chemistry that these machines do in a cell is pretty important.

What do you anticipate working on in the future?

I want to finish the job of figuring out how the bacterial outer membrane is built.  One way to prove that we understand how the membrane is built is to design molecules that inhibit this biogenesis process.  That is where we want to go in the future.  Molecules that interfere with the machines that make the outer membrane will kill the bacteria.  This is important because we need more antibiotics to treat Gram-negative infections, especially antibiotic-resistant ones.

What is important in training the next generation of researchers?

I think all scientists need to learn what makes something an interesting problem to study.  A problem isn’t interesting just because lots of people study it

What advice do you have for the next generation of researchers?

Don’t follow the crowd.  Find new problems that other people haven’t thought about yet.  Try to have fun and don’t spend too much time thinking about your career.   I worry that young scientists are too focused on being professional.  You need to make time for other things in order to allow your mind to be flexible (creative).

Explore some of Daniel Kahne’s research, published in Biochemistry

Find out about the winner of the 2019 Gordon Hammes Scholar Award, Kathleen Leamy

Read about previous, recent, winners of the Gordon Hammes Lectureship Award:

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