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Interview: ‘The experiments surprise me almost every time’

This is an interview with a PhD student of the Disease Intervention Strategies projects in a series of background articles. Keep following this website for the next interview in this series.

Interview with Maik Derks, PhD student of the Design of Next-Generation Antibiotics with cutting-edge NMR studies project at Utrecht University.

Using large, cooled magnets, Maik Derks is studying how antibiotics bind to molecules in bacteria.

‘I was mainly drawn to this PhD project by Solid-State Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR), the analytical technique that we use. Working with giant magnets is just very cool. Pun intended: the superconducting magnet is cooled to -269°C.

My PhD project is about antibiotics that target Lipid II, a crucial molecule in the membranes of bacteria. Lipid II shuttles from the inside of bacteria to the outside, where it is added onto the cell wall. Antibiotics bind to it, thus preventing the formation or growth of the cell wall. But how does this binding work? Is there any way to improve the antibiotic? This is what we are trying to find out.

My work is shared between two research groups: Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and Membrane Biochemistry and Biophysics. With the first group, I work on NMR spectroscopy, the method we use to study molecules. The other covers the biochemistry behind membranes and associated molecules. I actually like being part of two groups, as it allows me to make good use of the expertise of both. And I get to work with twice as many fun people!

The experiments we conduct surprise me almost every time. You might find something interesting somewhere, and continue with that. That is why I enjoy this project so much: you just see where it takes you.’

PhD project: Design of Next-Generation Antibiotics with cutting-edge NMR studies.