Identifying and Developing Novel Compounds to Combat Superbugs Related to NASA Space Travel

Faculty Sponsor

Danielle Orozco-Nunnelly


Arts and Sciences



ORCID Identifier(s)

Danielle Orozco-Nunnelly: 0000-0003-3381-0504

Presentation Type

Poster Presentation

Symposium Date

Spring 4-28-2022


The creation of novel antimicrobial agents is currently at the forefront of modern healthcare due to the stark decrease in antimicrobial drug development in recent years and due to the increasing rise of microorganisms that are resistant to more than one type of antimicrobial treatment, which are predicted by 2050 to cause 10 million deaths/year. In addition to being a terrestrial cause for concern, antimicrobial resistant microbes pose a large threat to the health of individuals during space travel. According to recent studies, numerous bacteria and fungi, including several opportunistic pathogens, have colonized the International Space Station, and many of these strains have been found to possess antimicrobial resistance. Additionally, several scientific reports have highlighted how space travel may alter an astronaut’s immune system, placing them at a heightened risk of infection. Therefore, the research herein is focused on testing bacterial and fungal pathogens that have been isolated from the International Space Station against methanolic extracts from various medicinal plants, such as Argemone mexicana. From previous work by our group, several antibacterial compounds have been isolated from the roots and leaves of A. mexicana, including berberine, chelerythrine and sanguinarine. Ten berberine and three chelerythrine variants of these original phytocompounds have now been synthesized and tested for altered antimicrobial activities. Interestingly, several of these variant compounds show increased antibacterial effects against gram-positive bacteria, yet reduced toxicity against the eukaryotic fungal cell lines tested. Work is currently being conducted to better understand the altered mechanism of action of these promising variant compounds.

Biographical Information about Author(s)

We are a group of undergraduate biology students presenting our research for Dr. Nunnelly's lab.

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