Peter Moore – Still on Science Hill

Matthew Chalkley | October 1, 2010

Sterling Professor of Chemistry Peter Moore never thought he would return to Yale after he earned his Bachelor of Science from Yale College in 1961. He left New Haven for graduate school at Harvard, where he worked in the lab of James Watson, followed by post-doctoral work at the University of Geneva. Having known since his undergraduate years that he wanted to work in academia, Moore traversed the country to interview at the best science programs in the country. Along the way, he decided to stop at his alma mater, and ultimately, Yale made the best offer. Once again, Moore found himself on Science Hill.

When Moore was an undergraduate, he majored in biophysics, a department that has since been subsumed under the department of Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry. Moore feels that the current department has a much greater focus on biological sciences, with professors primarily trained in that field, rather than being physicists interested in biological applications, as they were when he was at the university. Moore notes, however, that were he an undergraduate once again, he would not hesitate to major in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry, which provided him with a background that he believes has served him well in his distinguished academic career.

After graduation, Moore’s graduate work focused on ribosome chemistry and ever since, Moore has been a pioneer in the field and at the forefront for the methods used to investigate ribosome chemistry. Since his return, Moore’s expertise in the ribosome has been an integral part of the growing scientific reputation attributed to Yale. Most recently, Moore has worked in collaboration with Professor Thomas Steitz on forming an atomic-level picture of the ribosome—work that earned Steitz the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2009. The incredibly detailed structure they developed has allowed them to determine how antibiotics bind to the ribosome. Moore’s lab investigates how the mutations in resistant strains of bacteria alter the structure of the ribosome so that drugs can no longer bind to it properly.

Believing that this work will enable the targeted creation of new, effective antibiotics, Moore and Steitz recently founded Rib-X Pharmaceuticals, a pharmaceutical start-up based in New Haven. Rib-X has raised over $123 million for its research and has several promising drugs that will soon enter clinical trials. The research done at Moore’s nascent pharmaceutical company is in part guided by his continuing research at Yale. Although Moore does not know “exactly when [or] how it will happen,” he is confident that antibiotics effective against resistant strains such as Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vancomycin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (VRSA) will ultimately be developed.

This is an amazing outcome for a goal that Professor Moore admits was something of a research pipe dream for him and his colleagues. And considering that there have been only two new classes of antibiotics in the past forty years and only two truly novel antibiotics developed since 1998, this development is all the more impressive and crucial.

Moore’s work has facilitated crystallization of antibiotics bound to the ribosomes of resistant and non-resistant bacteria. These analyses enable researchers to study the differences between these bacteria in order to develop antibiotics that will be the most effective in binding to the ribosomes. These differences are very small and in some cases, even a single point mutation in the bacterial genome can create resistance. Increasingly sophisticated and specific research such as this will continue to lead to the kind of breakthroughs that will be of the utmost importance in our ever-evolving fight to keep bacterial infections under control.

Moore asserts that scientific research at Yale is of a “quality better than the institution really realizes.” He claims that the opportunities for students in performing research are really tremendous, opportunities that Moore believes students should definitely take advantage as an undergraduate. He sure did so himself, and look where he is now.