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Susan K. Buchanan, Ph.D.

Photo of Susan Buchanan.
Scientific Focus Areas: Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, Structural Biology

Professional Experience

  • Ph.D., Frankfurt University, 1990
  • M.S., Princeton University, 1986
  • B.S., Furman University, 1983

Research Goal

The goal of my lab’s research program is to provide basic science information that will lead to the development of more effective vaccines and drugs against bacterial infections.

Current Research

Our research program focuses on the structure determination of integral membrane proteins. We perform cryo electron microscopy and X-ray crystallography together with functional analysis of these proteins using biophysical, biochemical, and cell biological techniques. We study transporters embedded in the outer membranes of Gram-negative bacteria, which are surface accessible and therefore have the potential to be good vaccine and/or drug targets against infectious diseases. We also study the membrane associated or soluble protein partners that interact with outer membrane transporters to understand how these systems function in vivo. Current topics in the lab include (1) small molecule and protein import across the bacterial outer membrane, (2) protein secretion by pathogenic bacteria, and (3) protein import across mitochondrial outer membranes.

Applying Our Research

This work advances medical research and will directly benefit the public. We have already succeeded in identifying an alternative drug treatment to antibiotics that may result in reduced multi-drug resistance in bacterial pathogens. We have also spent several years developing novel vaccines against plague. The approaches we use can be similarly applied to other bacterial diseases.

Need for Further Study

Multidrug resistance arising from indiscriminate and widespread use of antibiotics is a growing health threat, and we need to develop much better strategies for treatment and prevention of bacterial infections.

Select Publications

Structural basis for iron piracy by pathogenic Neisseria.
Noinaj N, Easley NC, Oke M, Mizuno N, Gumbart J, Boura E, Steere AN, Zak O, Aisen P, Tajkhorshid E, Evans RW, Gorringe AR, Mason AB, Steven AC, Buchanan SK.
Nature (2012 Feb 12) 483:53-8. Abstract/Full Text
Structural insight into the biogenesis of β-barrel membrane proteins.
Noinaj N, Kuszak AJ, Gumbart JC, Lukacik P, Chang H, Easley NC, Lithgow T, Buchanan SK.
Nature (2013 Sep 19) 501:385-90. Abstract/Full Text
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Research in Plain Language

Proteins are essential to life. They play a role in all types of biological processes in all species of plants, animals, and bacteria. Our research determines how proteins function by analyzing their three-dimensional structure.

Specifically, we study proteins on the surface of bacteria that help them move, release substances, and stick together. These proteins either help bacteria survive or cause diseases. Because these proteins are found on the surface of bacteria, vaccines and drugs can get to them. Knowing the structure of these particular proteins may help researchers develop therapies that fight infectious bacteria cells without hurting a patient’s own cells.

My lab studies several distinct proteins. Some are common to many different kinds of bacteria and are required for their survival. Others are uniquely involved in the development of specific infections, including the bacteria that causes plague. Recently, we have also started to study proteins that may play a role in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Research Images

Last Reviewed June 2024