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June 2015

Using Robots To Assemble Promising Antimicrobial Compounds


There’s an urgent demand for new antimicrobial compounds that are effective against constantly emerging drug-resistant bacteria. Two robotic chemical-synthesizing machines, named Symphony X and Overture, have joined the search. Their specialty is creating custom nanoscale structures that mimic nature’s proven designs. They’re also fast, able to assemble dozens of compounds at a time.

The machines are located in a laboratory on the fifth floor of the Molecular Foundry in the Biological Nanostructures Facility. They make peptoids, which are synthetic versions of peptides. Nature uses peptides to build proteins, the workhorses of biology. Your body makes its own peptides to fight infections, and many antimicrobial drugs are based on peptides.

Despite their potency, peptide-based antimicrobials can degrade quickly in the bloodstream, limiting their effectiveness. Peptoids, being synthetic, are much more durable, which is one of the reasons why researchers have explored their use as antimicrobials for the past several years.

Recently, scientists from Denmark’s Roskilde University used Symphony X and Overture to make dozens of peptoids that are designed to target bacteria. They created peptoids that mimic the structure and function of peptide-based antimicrobials. These drugs have an overall positive charge and water-repelling characteristics, two traits that enable them to disrupt a bacterium’s membrane and kill it.

Read the full press release.