By Lynne Winter
When researchers worldwide need a detailed view of deadly viruses, they turn to Sarah Bowman, Ph.D.
The Metropolitan State University of Denver Chemistry alumna is director of the High-Throughput Crystallization Screening Center at the Hauptman-Woodward Institute in Buffalo, New York. The facility specializes in crystallizing proteins in viruses to reveal otherwise-invisible structures that help scientists develop treatments for infectious diseases.
“We’re really the only place outside of pharmaceutical companies with the capability for high-throughput screening and imaging — a specialized operation sampling different chemical conditions to see which will produce crystals,” she said.
The center has served as an epicenter for studies of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes Covid-19, since the onset of the pandemic.
In fact, within days of New York’s March 2020 lockdown, Bowman was contacted by biologists who wanted to send her lab proteins for crystallization.
Crystallizing virus proteins — its vehicle for replication — is “simple,” Bowman said. Once those proteins are crystallized, X-rays reveal their latticework patterns that can then be translated into three-dimensional structures.
“If you know the structure of a protein, you can see where a drug will bind itself or compare its diseased and healthy states,” Bowman said.
While today she is on the vanguard of Covid research, it wasn’t long ago that Bowman wasn’t into science. In fact, she avoided it altogether while earning a dual degree in English and Women’s Studies from Cornell College, she said.
Bowman credits MSU Denver and a General Chemistry class with Professor (Emeritus) Milton Wieder for helping her discover the wonders of the field.
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After graduating in 2005 with a B.S. in Chemistry, she earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from the University of Rochester in 2010. She completed two postdoctoral fellowships before landing at the High-Throughput Crystallization Screening Center in 2017.
“One of the nice things about MSU Denver is that it allows you to go back and reexperience something else,” she said. “You realize you can completely change the course of your life.”
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