Chemistry student Barbara Goodall
Chemistry student Barbara Goodall

Before researchers can understand how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, they first need to understand how cell membranes work.

“Antimicrobial peptides could be a possible solution to antibacterial resistance, however, the mechanism of how they situate in cell membranes is not fully understood,” says Barbara Goodall, a master’s student in the Department of Chemistry. “We need to make simplified models of that membrane so that we can selectively study different parts of the membrane.”

She is studying gramicidin, an antimicrobial peptide that targets gram-positive bacteria. “It would help us understand how these proteins can penetrate the bacterial membrane and cause the bacteria to die,” she says. “A lot of the mechanisms of how these proteins work are unknown,” and integrating them into a model membrane can reveal how the proteins interact with other components.

Goodall is part of a research group led by Prof. Jacek Lipkowski that is studying biological membranes. In the lab, she’s developing a basic model of a cell membrane to learn how its components, such as sugars, proteins and lipids work together. Instead of building the membrane on a solid support, which can interfere with the protein’s properties, the group is developing membranes that float on a water-rich cushion.

“I really enjoyed the hands-on work of making the membrane as well as imaging with atomic force microscopy,” she says. Atomic force microscopy allows her to scan the surface of the model membrane to create a topographical map of the sample down to the nanometer.

In addition to her research, Goodall has helped out with the chemistry department’s charitable work. She baked 118 cupcakes, one for each element on the periodic table. She frosted and labelled each one with its element name and sold them as a fundraiser for the University’s 2013 United Way campaign.