Callie Crawford '22 smiles in front of a background of trees.

What They Learned: Callie Crawford ‘22

For her thesis, the chemistry major studied structure-function relationships of acyl carrier proteins, and how they can contribute to medicinal diversity.

Callie Crawford never imagined conducting research as a career. But after working on her thesis in Associate Professor of Chemistry Lou Charkoudian’s lab, she discovered her own scientific potential. Now, she is headed to the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine to pursue a Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biophysics. 

“Thesis, and all the research leading up to it, allowed me to experiment with what it means to be a scientist,” she said.

For that thesis, the lacrosse-playing chemistry major, who concentrated in both biochemistry and peace, justice, and human rights, studied the relationship between chain sequestration and binding affinity in type II polyketide synthase acyl carrier proteins.

Acyl carrier proteins play a critical role in producing molecules that can be used for medicinal purposes. As phenomena such as antibiotic resistance evolve, forcing medical professionals to adapt, the research in Crawford’s thesis could lead to more readily available chemical and medicinal diversity.

“Elucidating structure:function relationships in acyl carrier proteins will show researchers how naturally occurring enzymes can create such complex molecules,” said Crawford, “which will enable future researchers to engineer and repurpose these enzymes to enact target reactions and create target molecules without the need for potentially difficult, time-consuming, or environmentally harmful synthetic chemistry.”

Crawford’s growth as a researcher was facilitated by Charkoudian. Crawford explained that Charkoudian encouraged her growth by allowing her to develop, conduct, and interpret her own experiments first. Then, afterwards, Charkoudian would suggest improvements and troubleshooting ideas.

“I really enjoyed being pushed to understand and theorize about my work because it allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the science behind what I was doing,” Crawford said.

What inspired your thesis work?
I am really inspired by protein structure:function relationships, especially within acyl carrier proteins. They are such small proteins yet they are able to perform a wide variety of functions while retaining specificity to their own systems. Figuring out why and how is like a lifelong puzzle.

What is your biggest takeaway from your project?
I learned to think around problems and trust that I can create my own solutions. I spent the first part of my thesis research repeating time-consuming, low-yield experiments to acquire the protein samples I needed for my target experiment (just sort of assuming that the protocol I had was the best/only reaction). My thesis began to come together only when I stopped and decided to try to make a more efficient reaction to get the samples I needed. If I hadn’t trusted myself to create something like that, I would still be making protein samples to this day. Challenging precedents instead of accepting them is what made my thesis successful: I will definitely be incorporating this more often, in and out of the lab.

“What They Learned” is a blog series exploring the thesis work of recent graduates.