Jesse Coker

OU Major: 
Biochemistry and Economics
Research Mentor: 
Adam Duerfeldt
Describe your undergraduate research or creative project: 
I am an Undergraduate Research Assistant with the Duerfeldt Lab, a member of the Institute for Natural Products Applications and Research Technologies (INPART) and the OU Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The Duerfeldt Lab focuses on designing, by synthetic methodology, and discovering, by natural product screening, novel therapeutic compounds against both human and bacterial targets. My project consisted of screening a diverse library of natural compounds derived from soil samples from all over the world (collected by the Cichewicz Lab, also a member of INPART at OU) in an effort to discover new antibiotics. Bacterial resistance to current therapies has grown into a major concern, making the development of unique and potent antibiotics extremely important. I worked on targeting a bacterial protease, a type of protein that eats other proteins. By over-activating this protease with an antibiotic compound, the protease becomes permanently switched on and consumes the bacteria from the inside out. I used multiple screening assays to uncover a never before reported natural product activator of this protease which has exciting antibiotic potential. Our lab continues to optimize this compound, alongside many others, and is optimistic about the potential of this new style of antibiotic.
Explain what you learned or give advice to fellow students: 
When taken as a challenge rather than a defeat, failures are actually critical to propelling yourself forward. Science is slow; sometimes painfully, frustratingly so, and setbacks are ever-present. However, I’ve learned that overcoming these challenges defines the heart of science. Research takes time, energy, and a lot of determination, but the struggle of science, while sometimes demoralizing, has challenged and redefined my attitude about failure. And, when a daunting obstacle is finally defeated, the victory tastes that much sweeter. Do it. Research is exciting and extremely rewarding—there is something fundamentally incredible about making a discovery. I would strongly encourage every undergraduate, in every discipline, to undertake research. Find a professor whose work sounds interesting and reach out to them; the faculty at OU is extremely enthusiastic about undergraduate research. Send an email, make a phone call, stop into someone’s office—be bothersome and persistent, and very soon you’ll find an amazing opportunity. Research is something you need to do at OU. As Nike would say, just do it.
Awards and/or presentations: 
I gave an oral presentation detailing my antibiotic research at the 2015 OU Undergraduate Research Day and received, along with my partner Cici Zhou, an Honors Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) grant.
Published Work: