assistant professor of chemistry, is interested in finding antibiotics for
the disease cholerae.
New Assistant Professor of Chemistry Teaches at Interface with Biology
|Erika Taylor has
joined the Department of Chemistry as an assistant professor of chemistry.
Taylor’s research interests include the exploration of lipopolysaccharide
(LPS) biosynthesis and discovering new antibiotics for gram negative
“My passion is exploring new ways of fighting diseases, with everything from
drug development to education,” she says. “My research at Wesleyan will
focus on the development of new antibiotics, especially for pharmaceutically
undervalued diseases like cholerae, which infects 3 to 5 million people each
year with a 5 percent mortality rate.”
Taylor comes to Wesleyan from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at
Yeshiva University, where she was a post-doctorial research associate for
the past three years. There, Taylor studied nucleotide metabolism in the
context of drug development for malaria. She also worked as a graduate
research assistant at the University of Illinois, and studied the
evolutionary relationship of enzymes in the enolase superfamily.
Taylor has a Ph. D. in chemistry from the University of Illinois at
Urbana-Champaign. Her thesis was titled "Characterization of
ortho-succinylbenzoate synthase: A study of mechanism, proficiency and
evolutionary diversity." She received her bachelor of science in chemistry
from the University of Michigan. Her honor's thesis was titled "Synthesis
towards analog molecules of motuporin for determination of a
structure-function relationship with protein phosphatase I.”
This fall, she is advising two undergraduates on their research toward
characterization of V. cholerae glycosyl transferases. Her lab investigates the
contribution to virulence of the lipopolysaccharide (LPS) in Vibrio cholerae.
She hopes to characterize the composition and structure of all regions of
LPS from species in the genus. The lab will identify and mechanically
explore LPS biosynthetic enzymes, including those involved in sugar
precursor anabolism and the glycosyl transferase enzymes. Finally, the
Taylor group will investigate environmentally induced alterations of LPS
structure, the LPS biosynthetic gene and protein expression profiles, and
the LPS metabolite profiles.
She also is teaching CHEM321, a self-designed course that focuses on drug
design, mode of action, and other health topics like diet and vitamins.
Taylor said she was attracted to Wesleyan for its excellent research
facilities, and she enjoys working in a liberal arts environment, which has
a Ph.D.-granting program.
“I also thought the people in the Chemistry Department were really welcoming
and good-natured. They asked great questions of me on my interview, and at
the same time, seemed like people I would enjoy working with,” she says.
Taylor has always enjoyed teaching and mentoring equally to research. She
mentored students at the University of
Michigan as an undergraduate. As a graduate student and a post-doc, her faculty mentors always
assigned undergraduates to work with her because they could see Taylor’s
interest and enthusiasm in spreading an appreciation of science.
“An interesting thing that often happened was that undergraduates that
worked with other lab mentors would often come to me to ask for help with
their research dilemmas, further reinforcing my belief that I should
continue into academia,” Taylor says.
At Wesleyan, she has already worked with the campus group Americans for
Informed Democracy on their Malaria Awareness Week initiative. This
educational and fundraising effort led to the purchase of bednets to be
donated to communities in need.
Taylor is a member of the American Society for Microbiology, the American
Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical
She is the co-author of several papers including: “Anopheles gambiae Purine
Nucleoside Phosphorylase: Catalysis, Structure and Inhibition,” in press in
Biochemistry; “Transition State Structures of Human, Bovine and
Plasmodium falciparum Adenosine Deaminases,” published in the Journal of
the American Chemical Society; and “Neighboring Group Participation in
the Transition State of Human Purine Nucleoside Phosphorylase,” published in
Biochemistry, all in 2007.
Taylor enjoys yoga, ceramics, animals, eating sushi and exploring new
places. She also aims to help demystify science, therefore turning it from a
subject that is feared to something that is appreciated.
“Almost all aspects of our life involve doing things that are science
related or are impossible without current scientific innovations, “ she
says. “Like cooking, doing dishes, taking medicines, watching CSI, doing
ceramics, sitting on a jury, thinking about energy and climate.”
Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection