The friendship between seniors Andi Lamb, of Chuckey, and Kellee Geren, of Cleveland, began when they connected as lab partners in their first chemistry class at Milligan.

“We have been lab partners in the majority of our classes over the years,” reflected Lamb. “We really balance each other out in the lab and enjoy working together.”

When given the opportunity to pursue a mentored research project, they knew they wanted to work together on a project with Dr. Kristen Mudrack, assistant professor of chemistry.

“Professor Mudrack has impacted us both in the classroom and outside,” said Geren. “She’s more than a professor for her students. She takes the time to invest in us and you don’t feel like you are just a student.”

In discussing their research interests, Mudrack connected them to an intercollegiate database of research focused on antibiotics used by Cystic Fibrosis (CF) patients.

CF is a genetic disorder that causes damage to patient’s lungs, pancreas, and digestive systems. The disorder causes thick mucus to form in individuals’ lungs, and this causes, among other problems, persistent bacterial infections throughout CF patients’ lives.

Antibiotics become a part of daily life for individuals with CF, as they help fight against infections. Over time, bacteria becomes more resistant.

Multiple colleges and universities, including Milligan, IUPUI, Goshen College, and Colorado College, have collaborated over the years to create a database on novel compounds that work best as antibiotics.

For the past year, Lamb and Geren created and tested 18 dipeptide antibiotics in the lab.

“Our research involved synthesizing and testing new antibiotic compounds that could be used against particular bacteria for CF patients,” said Lamb. “In the lab, we used solid-phase peptide synthesis, a process we became interested in during organic chemistry.”

For their research, Lamb and Geren placed a solid, insoluble resin into a vial of liquid. They attached two different amino acids—organic compounds that form proteins—together to create the final antibiotic. After the dipeptide antibiotic was formed, they removed it from the resin to test its effectiveness against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a common bacteria that infects the lungs of CF patients.

“One method we used to evaluate the effectiveness of our compound involved color,” said Geren. “After treating the bacteria with the antibiotic we created, we observed the color of the liquid in the vial. If the liquid turned a dark purple, it meant that this compound was not effective at killing the bacteria. The clearer the liquid, the more effective the compound would be as an antibiotic.”

The compounds selected and tested by Lamb and Geren were slightly effective against removing bacteria.

“The antibiotics that CF patients currently use work effectively, and in our research, testing those compounds as controls leaves the liquid clear,” said Geren. “The compounds we chose to test left a slight purple color. We came to the conclusion that this compound might work in the future if it was included in a different combination.”

Lamb and Geren appreciated the experience to research an issue affecting people’s lives. They also enjoyed testing antibiotic compounds that were less researched.

“We were not sure what the results would be, and we were learning along the way,” said Geren. “It was nice to participate in research where we were using scientific methods to discover something new.”

Next year, rising senior Hannah Rodgers and rising junior Madison Blanton will continue this research at Milligan. As they prepare to enter the lab next year, they have appreciated learning from these seniors’ experiences.