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Two Illinois professors elected to American Academy of Microbiology

Wilfred van der Donk
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Don Hamerman

Wilfred van der Donk, the Richard E. Heckert Endowed Chair in Chemistry, is one of two Illinois professors elected a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

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4/21/2011 | Liz Ahlberg, Physical Sciences Editor | 217-244-1073; eahlberg@illinois.edu

CHAMPAIGN, lll. — Two University of Illinois professors have been elected fellows of the American Academy of Microbiology. James Slauch and Wilfred van der Donk are among the 78 microbiologists chosen by their peers for significant contributions to their field.

James Slauch
James Slauch, a professor of microbiology and of medicine | Photo by L. Brian Stauffer

Slauch, a professor of microbiology and of medicine, studies Salmonella bacteria, particularly the molecular mechanisms that cause Salmonella infections and allow the bacteria to elude the immune system.

In addition to causing an annual 1.4 million cases of gastroenteritis and enteric fever, Salmonella is the leading cause of death from food-borne bacteria in the United States. Slauch studies specific proteins in Salmonella typhimurium and how they contribute to virulence and make the bacteria resistant to attack from phagocytes in the immune system. Understanding these pathways could be the key to identifying drug targets and designing treatments to inhibit Salmonella

Slauch earned his doctorate from Princeton University. He completed a postdoctorate program at Harvard Medical School before joining the faculty in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology at the U. of I. He also serves as the director of the Medical Scholars Program and is affiliated with the Institute for Genomic Biology.

Van der Donk, the Richard E. Heckert Endowed Chair in Chemistry, focuses on harnessing enzyme functions for the discovery and design of new anti-inflammatory agents and antibiotics.

As bacteria become more resistant to commercially available medications, researchers have searched for alternative drug targets within bacteria’s cellular pathways. Van der Donk has particularly focused on the activity and synthesis of lantibiotics and phosphonate antibiotics, two promising but little-understood classes, with the hope of using natural synthesis pathways to discover compounds or improve known compounds to enhance their medical properties.  He also studies the enzymes inactivated by anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, to develop more targeted inhibitors.

Van der Donk earned his doctorate from Rice University. He did postdoctoral work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and joined the faculty at Illinois in 1997. He is also a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator and is affiliated with the U. of I. Institute for Genomic Biology.

The American Academy of Microbiology now has more than 2,500 fellows “representing all subspecialties of microbiology, including basic and applied research, teaching, public health, industry and government service,” according to a news release from the organization.   

Editor's note: To contact James Slauch, call 217-244-1956; email slauch@illinois.edu.

To reach Wilfred van der Donk, call 217-244-5360; email vddonk@illinois.edu.

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