Dr. John Kulp Receives Young Investigator Award at the 21st American Peptide Society Symposium


9/8/2009 - 68-09r
Contact: Amanda Bowie, (202) 767-2541


Dr. John Kulp, of the Naval Research Laboratory's Chemistry Division, received the Young Investigator Award for his poster entitled, "Engineering Heterochiral Peptides" at the 21st American Peptide Society Symposium. The meeting was held in Bloomington, Indiana, on June 11, 2009. The poster, co-authored by Drs. Kulp and Thomas Clark, who work together in the Chemistry Division's Molecular Interfaces and Tribology Section, described the design, synthesis, and characterization of a set of peptide nanotubes having a range of possible applications, including stochastic sensing, which offers the promise of ultrasensitive, real-time detection.

On display at the conference were 345 posters, of which 121 posters were presented by postdoctoral fellows and advanced graduate students competing as young investigators. The competition consisted of three rounds of judging with each judge independently scoring the posters and presentations based on the following criteria: presentation, knowledge of the area, originality/novelty, and presenter's contribution to the work. Each round of judging resulted in a narrowing of the competition, leaving only 51 semi-finalists and 17 finalists. Ultimately, Dr. Kulp was awarded the Young Investigator Award, which includes a manuscript submission to the journal Biopolymers. The combination of synthetic expertise and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) structure determination distinguished the NRL poster from the competition. This honor recognizes that the research being carried out by the NRL team is clearly cutting edge.

Chirality describes an object that is non-superposable on its mirror image; human hands are a common example. The peptides being developed are heterochiral, meaning they contain molecular building blocks that alternate in their chirality. These molecules fold into unique double helices that are controlled to have an overall left- or right-handed chirality.

Illustration of the right-handed heterochiral peptide structure developed, synthesized, and characterized at NRL.
To achieve this control, the NRL team developed synthetic routes for making heterochiral peptides with discrete structural conformations. Previously, heterochiral peptides were difficult to investigate because they adopt multiple structures in solution. By making the peptide molecules cyclic, the authors were able to trap them into a distinct structural state: a prerequisite for developing functional peptides. Very few heterochiral peptides exist in nature, and all of them adopt their active structures in hydrophobic membrane environments. The NRL authors proved that heterochiral peptides are not limited to membrane environments and can fold into discrete structures in polar solvents such as water. Their work opens the field of heterochiral peptides to numerous potential applications such as sensors, smart materials, and catalysts, thus enhancing NRL's multidisciplinary technology platform.

Dr. John Kulp earned his BA in chemistry from Drew University in Madison, NJ. After completing his degree, he worked for the Sarnoff Corporation in Princeton, NJ, where he was granted his first patent application for synthetic peptide chemistry. In his pursuit of an advanced degree, he enrolled in the chemistry department at New York University in Manhattan, NY. Dr. Kulp received his PhD degree within four years, while completing eight publications. In December 2006, he joined NRL's Chemistry Division and has since contributed two published papers, three papers in press, one patent application, one provisional patent application, and 10 presentations. He is an active member of the NRL community as the organizer of the 2009 NRL Postdoctoral Colloquium Series and as a soccer player with the NRL soccer club.



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