Laura Bickerton: Anion Transporters and Graduate School


Dr. Laura Bickerton studied stimuli-responsive anion transporters. But first, we need to understand ions! Electrically charged particles, or ions, are atoms or molecules that have gained or lost one or more electrons. Cations are ions that have lost one or more electrons, resulting in a net positive charge. Anions, on the other hand, are molecules or atoms that have gained one or more electrons, resulting in a net negative charge. Various ions serve important roles in our bodies’ functions and homeostasis. 

For example, sodium ions [Na+] are crucial in maintaining fluid balance, nerve impulse transmission, and pH regulation. Potassium ions [K+] are also important in the generation of action potentials in neurons and muscle cells. Chloride ions [Cl] work with sodium to maintain fluid balance, osmotic pressure, and pH. They are involved in the movement of fluid across cell membranes and play a role in immune function. 

Anion Transporters

Ion channels, which are proteins that allow the movement of ions in and out of the cell, that are faulty can cause major diseases. For example, cystic fibrosis—the most common and fatal genetic disease in the United States—is caused by a mutation that results in dysregulation of the flow of chloride and sodium ions [1]. Dr. Bickerton has researched anion transporters in search of treating these conditions that arise from faulty ion movements. She has worked on making mobile carriers that can transport anions across these membranes as well as making synthetic carriers specific for chloride ions [2]. Because these stimuli-responsive transmembrane ion carriers possess the potential to be used as therapeutics for channelopathies and cancer, she has explored them in regard to the stimulus of light in her studies [3]. She proposes a novel mechanism for regulating the movement of mobile ion carriers across lipid bilayer membranes by attaching a membrane-targeting anchor to the carrier using a photo-cleavable linker.  

Figure 1. Ion channels facilitate the movement of ions in and out of a membrane.

Life as a Graduate Student

During her undergraduate career, Dr. Bickerton realized she loved working in labs as well as the lectures on bio-inorganic chemistry, which propelled her to pursue graduate school [2]. She completed her Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Oxford, working under the supervision of Professor Matthew Langton and Professor Paul Beer. She was selected as a 2022 CAS Future Leaders Program for her science leadership. For her, the most rewarding part of research is seeing results come together—whether that’s in the form of a publication, a report to her supervisors, or a good NMR [2]. She also has an Instagram account dedicated to column chromatography in hopes of making the process less daunting for others. 

Learn More

If you’d like to hear more about anion transporters and graduate school life, visit us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and many other streaming services to listen to our ChemTalk podcast with Dr. Laura Bickerton, who obtained a Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Oxford and is now a post-doctoral research assistant at the University of Edinburgh. She delves into her once dreams of becoming a chef and her reasons for stepping into academia. 

Find the ChemTalk podcast here

Works Cited

[1] Sockrider, M. & Ferkol, T. (2017). Twenty Facts About Cystic Fibrosis. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, 196, 23-24. 

[2] Bickerton, Laura. Personal Interview. Conducted by Oliva Lambertson and Nafeesa Mamhood. 2 Feb 2023.

[3] Bickerton, L. E., & Langton, M. J. (2022). Controlling transmembrane ion transport via photo-regulated Carrier Mobility. Chemical Science, 13(33), 9531–9536.