Bioengineering professor is the recipient of the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award.

Bacteria have a formidable enemy in Wonpil Im.

Im, the Presidential Endowed Chair in Health and Professor of Biological Sciences and Bioengineering, uses computational biophysics to learn how antibiotics permeate bacterial membranes and target bacteria for destruction.

His research group has developed CHARMM-GUI, an open-access research program that simulates complex biomolecular systems more simply and more precisely than previously possible. The tool is becoming increasingly valuable as more bacteria develop resistance to antibiotics.

Im’s research recently got a boost when he received the prestigious Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, an organization of the German government that promotes collaboration between scientists from Germany and abroad.

The Bessel Award is named for Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel, a 19th-century German astronomer and mathematician. It will support research that Im is conducting with Ulrich Kleinekathöfer, professor of theoretical physics, and Mathias Winterhalter, an experimental biophysicist, both at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany.

“With the Humboldt Foundation awarding only 20 Bessel Research Awards each year, this award is evidence of Wonpil’s accomplishments in the field and his international colleagues’ eagerness to work with him,” said Alan J. Snyder, vice president and associate provost for research and graduate studies at Lehigh.

“The work we are doing is aligned with one of the top drug development priorities identified by the European Commission’s ‘New Drugs for Bad Bugs’ initiative,” said Im. “These priorities include translocation, which focuses on understanding the molecular basis of bacterial cell wall permeability."

Im’s ultimate goal is to use CHARMM-GUI to model complex biomolecular systems that will further scientific understanding of the structure and functions of 10 different superbugs.

Read the full story at the Lehigh University News Center.

-Lori Friedman is a Director of Media Relations with Lehigh University's Office of Communications and Public Affairs.


An example of the molecular complexity of the outer cell membrane of a Gram-negative bacterium is shown in this illustration of a typical E. coli outer membrane. (Image courtesy of Wonpil Im)