A flip of the coin brings a career studying ribosomes

Alexander Mankin, professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy

Alexander Mankin’s career choice was settled by a coin toss. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services


The UIC Distinguished Professorship recognizes scholarship, creativity and leadership. 

Alexander “Shura” Mankin’s decision to study the ribosome and its molecular makeup was predicated on a coin toss.

Two positions were open in the laboratory of renowned Russian scientist Alexej Bogdanov at Moscow State University. Mankin and a friend, Andrei Vartapetian, were both interested. But there was only one spot available to study ribosomes. The two decided to flip a coin.

“I guess you can say we both won,” says Mankin, professor of medicinal chemistry and pharmacognosy in the College of Pharmacy. “Andrei began working on the encephalomyocarditis virus and is a very successful scientist. And I was stuck with the ribosome, and since then, I have never stopped loving working with this fascinating molecular machine.”

Throughout his career, Mankin has done extensive research on the functions of the ribosome and how it can be inhibited by drugs. His laboratory has established modes of action for several important classes of antibiotics.

“We’re studying how the ribosome, which is responsible for churning out all the proteins in a cell, works, and how antibiotics interfere with its function,” Mankin says. “We also investigate mechanisms of drug resistance and are trying to develop new, superior antibiotics.”

Mankin is studying how the ribosome deals with the newly formed polypeptide, how drugs affect this process, and how microbes become resistant. He has published more than 100 papers in leading journals. His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and other funding agencies.

In 2009, he received the first UIC Researcher of the Year Award. Last year he received the Paul R. Dawson Biotechnology Award from the American Association of the Colleges of Pharmacy. This year he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology.

As for being named a distinguished professor, Mankin says, “I am deeply touched that my colleagues and the leaders of the College of Pharmacy considered me of worthy this distinction. This award would never have happened if not for the amazing team of graduate students, staff members and senior scientists I am so lucky to work with.”

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