Teacher's Corner

Professor Sam Gellman and his research group of graduate and undergraduate students are interested in using beta amino acids as building blocks to make small peptide molecules that have complex secondary and tertiary structures. These small molecules have been termed foldamers. Alpha amino acids, with which you may be familiar, make up the proteins found in our body. These proteins are digested by the body and rebuilt to suit the body's needs. Beta amino acids have one extra carbon compared to the alpha amino acids. Because of this extra carbon, the body does not recognize the beta peptides to digest them. This makes them good candidates for drugs because they are not harmful to the body, but will also not be destroyed by the body before they can do their job.

The ability to predict secondary and tertiary structure in small peptide molecules would allow for the design of molecules with a specific shape. The shape of a molecule has much to do with its interaction with other molecules. Small molecules of the correct shape have the potential to be used as drugs that have abilities ranging from fighting cancer to slowing or preventing HIV infection of healthy cells. Predicting secondary and tertiary structure is still difficult, and many efforts are being made to understand how these molecules will behave based on the primary structure of beta peptides.

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