Kiessling to Speak at 2017 Beckman-Brown Lecture on Interdisciplinary Science

Laura Kiessling, the Novartis Professor of Chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), will present the 2017 Beckman-Brown Lecture on Interdisciplinary Science. Her talk, “Cell Surface Glycans as Cellular IDs,” will be at 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3 in the Beckman Institute Auditorium. A reception will follow.

The annual Beckman-Brown Lecture on Interdisciplinary Science honors Dr. Arnold O. Beckman, the founder of the Beckman Institute, and Theodore “Ted” Brown, the founding director. The series is funded by a gift from the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation.

 Laura Kiessling, professor of chemistry, MIT
Laura Kiessling, professor of chemistry, MIT


From humans to fungi to bacteria, virtually all cells on Earth possess a carbohydrate coat. One important role of this coat is to serve as an identification card. Checking microbial IDs is critical for human health. As animals living among microbes, we need to distinguish between microorganisms that are generally benign (commensal), beneficial (mutualist/symbiont), or pathogenic. The glycans play key roles. This seminar will focus on the roles of carbohydrate-binding proteins in checking glycan IDs. Topics will span from probing fundamental chemical forces underlying the recognition of carbohydrates to understanding how nature exploits these interactions to detect microbes—both commensal and pathogenic. Kiessling’s research group is studying how to co-opt or inhibit glycan interactions for health and disease.


After earning a S.B. in chemistry at MIT (1983) and a Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Yale University (1989), where she worked with Stuart Schreiber, Laura Kiessling spent two years at the California Institute of Technology as an American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow in the research group of Peter B. Dervan. In 1991, she joined the faculty of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and MIT in 2017. Her interdisciplinary research interests focus on elucidating and exploiting the mechanisms of cell surface recognition processes, especially those involving protein-glycan interactions. Another major interest of her group is multivalency and its role in recognition and signal transduction. Her research combines tools from organic synthesis, polymer chemistry, structural biology, and molecular and cell biology.