Theodore Wolf Prize in Physical and Life Sciences
Kristen DeMeester was awarded the Theodore Wolf Prize in Physical and Life Sciences for her dissertation, Synthesis of Bioorthogonal Muramyl Glycans That Illuminate and Track Bacterial Peptidoglycan.
DeMeester’s research centered on peptidoglycan — a polymer made of sugars and amino acids that forms the cell walls of bacteria. Her work resulted in a method that allows this polymer to be labeled like a flashlight, advancing research into how the human immune system functions.
All bacteria contain peptidoglycan, but human cells do not. Our immune system uses fragments of this polymer to recognize and respond when bacteria are present. When beneficial bacteria are misidentified as being harmful, however, chronic inflammatory diseases such as asthma and Crohn’s disease can arise.
“The work that Kristen has completed is extremely remarkable and important,” said Catherine Leimkuhler Grimes, DeMeester’s adviser and assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “She has significantly impacted the fields of immunology and microbiology.” (DeMeester was unable to attend the ceremony, so Grimes accepted the honor on her behalf.)
Brian Bahnson, chair of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, said DeMeester’s dissertation “represents the very best of our department and the University of Delaware.”
Joseph Fox, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, pointed out that DeMeester’s work already is in use by 20 groups globally — at Yale, Harvard, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Institute and the Institut Pasteur, among them. She also helped found UD Women in Chemistry, which has created career development and mentoring programs for women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
James Taylor, executive director of Gilead Sciences, said: “DeMeester is a rising star in the field of chemical biology and I look forward to seeing the great achievements she has ahead of her.”
DeMeester leaves UD for a postdoctoral fellowship at Scripps Research Institute.
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