Bacteria evolve faster than scientists can make new antibiotics to fight them. That’s why César de la Fuente has developed algorithms that follow Darwin’s laws of evolution to create optimized artificial antibiotics. An expert in engineering bits of protein called peptides to solve medical problems, he has also developed a method of turning toxic proteins, like one found in wasp venom, into antimicrobials. And he has mined huge existing databases of proteins in the human body to discover molecules that can kill harmful microbes.
“I wake up every day thinking about all the people that are dying in this country and around the world as a result of treatable infections, and try to come up with solutions,” says de la Fuente, who has always been fascinated by microbes’ knack for survival.
In addition to developing computer-made antibiotics, de la Fuente, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania, hopes next to use the same engineering approach to find proteins implicated in psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety and to modify them to affect brain function and behavior.