Friendly Conversation

Some of the most rewarding moments in my professional career have been in the midst of protracted conversation with a colleague about some concept or how to communicate an idea to an audience. At times I’ve been the teacher and other times the learner, but the best is when somehow, almost through the strength of the process itself, something new became apparent to both the other person and me at the same time. It’s like those special moments when musicians uncover some hidden beauty in a song. I’ve heard U2’s The Edge describe it as “when the magic happens.” We repeat a process to increase the chance that the magic will happen. In plain language, the magic is fun and it makes us (at least me) happy.

So when the opportunity for some friendly conversation presents itself, I often go for it. (The antipode of friendly conversation – idle conversation – causes me physical pain, however.) As I read a research paper written by a student in my Physical Organic Chemistry class last semester (Spring 2015) I realized that turning it into a blog post would enable us to meet and discuss the topic and his treatment of it.

Matt Guberman chose to write about the physical basis behind the difference in affinities of D-Ala-D-Ala and D-Ala-D-Lac terminating peptides to vancomycin. His analysis centered on a paper from Dale Boger’s group entitled, “Partitioning the Loss in Vancomycin Binding Affinity for D-Ala-D-Lac into Lost H-Bond and Repulsive Lone Pair Contributions” Casey C. McComas , Brendan M. Crowley , and Dale L. Boger J. Am. Chem. Soc.  2003,125, 9314–9315. I was attracted to the prospect of collaborating on this with Matt because the vanco story is fascinating and I had done some work on it when I was a post-doc. Mostly, though, I had come to realize how fun it is to have a conversation with Matt about science. The probability of the magic happening when you talk with him is decidedly above average.

The post, “Resistance: How VanA strains get away with it,” flowed out of Matt’s research paper. We’ve broken it into two parts; the second part will be posted in a week or so. Early drafts were edited with the help of another grad student, Jordan Greco. The rest was my collaboration with Matt. The posts are neither exhaustive nor perfect but they will give a newcomer an appreciation for the importance of vanco and some of the physical organic chemistry fundamentals behind its mechanism of action. It was fun assembling them with Matt.