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Strong Bonds: How the Magolan Lab Adds a New Element to the IIDR

Written by Luke Yaeger, MSc student, Burrows Lab 

The primary interests of Dr. Jakob Magolan’s lab at McMaster University lie in the search for novel antibiotics to treat drug-resistant microbial infections.


The Magolan Lab in their new research space, the Boris Family Medicinal Chemistry Laboratory. Back: Dr. Jakob Magolan, Dr. Jarrod Johnson, Louis Borrillo, Arnav Kaul, Ramon Arora, Dr. Nicholas Jentsch. Front: Dr. Lakshmana Kinthada, Xiong Zhang, Gary Zheng, Zoe Piquette, Meghan Fragis, Dr. My Phan Thuy Cao.

Dr. Jakob Magolan joined the  Michael G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research (IIDR) in 2017 to establish a dedicated, in-house chemistry lab. This provided him with a unique opportunity to collaborate with a diverse set of biochemistry-focused labs within the institute. The dynamic between the Magolan Lab and the other IIDR labs fosters productive and impactful infectious disease research. When a new and exciting chemical compound is discovered by an IIDR team, they seek out the Magolan Lab to improve the compound’s solubility and potency in a process called medicinal chemistry. In a recent collaboration with the Coombes and Brown Labs, Dr. Magolan’s team improved the killing power of an anti-Salmonella compound called metergoline. However, the relationship extends both ways for the Magolan Lab; when a member of Dr. Magolan’s team creates a new array of chemicals, they have the other IIDR labs at their disposal to test the chemicals for biological activity.

Beyond collaborative efforts, the Magolan Lab specializes in organosulfur chemistry – the creation of chemical structures that incorporate sulfur atoms into the carbon backbone of a typical organic compound. Recently, they used sulfur-containing Wittig salts to create easily accessible vinyl sulfides that can then serve as building blocks for many new compounds. To understand the inner workings of the Magolan Lab, I interviewed Postdoctoral Fellow (PDF) Dr. Nicholas Jentsch about the lab environment and how Dr. Magolan operates as a supervisor. He gave a glowing review.

A) Chemical modifications to the anti-Salmonella agent metergoline. The modified regions are shown in blue. Figure from Ellis et al., doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-08190-x. B) Reaction scheme for generating vinyl sulfides and their derivatives. Image courtesy of Dr. Nicholas Jentsch.

It’s an exciting time for Nick to be in the Magolan Lab. Although their lab is relatively new, Nick is one of four PDFs on the team in addition to the six graduate students and four undergraduates. Managing a group this size can be a challenge, especially for a young professor, but Dr. Magolan has taken it in stride. Between regular, one-on-one check-ins with his students and weekly group meetings, Dr. Magolan is acutely aware of his team’s day to day operations. However, the Magolan Lab students are also given room to explore new chemical syntheses, and for any research trainee, the freedom to act on your own ideas in the lab is a valuable learning experience. It’s clear that Dr. Magolan takes pride in developing strong trainees and this theme of growth permeates to his PDFs as well; every week the PDFs hold a “Chem School” that teaches advanced chemistry concepts to graduate students (even those from outside the Magolan Lab are welcome!).

The Magolan Lab trainees recently presented their work at the 102nd Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition in Quebec City. For more information on the research happening in their lab, visit


About the Author


Luke Yaeger, MSc student

Luke is a Masters student in Dr. Lori Burrows lab within the Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences at McMaster University. Here, he is investigating biofilm stimulation of E. coli by sub-MIC antibiotics, and the potential off-target effects of trimethoprim on Pseudomonas aeruginosa cell division.