Monmouth College will welcome microbiologist and 1965 graduate Karen Bush Watts to campus next week as a guest lecturer in the Alumni Distinguished Visitor series. Bush, who will speak to several science classes during her two-day visit, will be joined by her husband, environmental chemist Dan Watts.
Bush will give a free presentation titled “Odyssey of a Liberal Arts Graduate” on Feb. 28 at 5 p.m. in the Morgan Room in Poling Hall.
After received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Monmouth, Bush earned her doctorate in biochemistry from Indiana University. Following postdoctoral work at the University of California-Santa Barbara and the University of North Carolina, she joined the Squibb Institute for Medical Research in New Jersey, where she began studying beta-lactamases, the enzymes in pathogenic bacteria that are the major cause for resistance to penicillin and other beta-lactam antibiotics.
During her career in the pharmaceutical industry (Squibb, 1973-1991; Lederle/Wyeth 1991-1996; Johnson & Johnson, 1997-2009), Bush was a member of teams that identified and/or developed the antibiotics Azactam, Zosyn, Levaquin, Doribax and the anti-MRSA cephalosporin, Zeftera. As the head of the Antimicrobial Drug Discovery Research team at J&J, her work involved the identification of novel inhibitors of bacterial enzyme targets and the discovery of new ketolides and novel topoisomerase inhibitors with antibacterial activity against resistant gram-positive pathogens. During her research career, she contributed to the development of eight investigational drugs that entered human clinical trials.
A Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology, Bush currently teaches in the biotechnology program at Indiana University. She serves as a consultant to several biotech companies and is on scientific advisory boards for Merck, Fedora and the TB Alliance.
Her husband also worked for the Squibb Institute and has a Ph.D., receiving his doctorate in organic chemistry from Indiana University. Previously, he received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and botany from Ohio State University and a master’s degree in botany.
At Squibb, Watts worked on the isolation, purification and determination of chemical structure of potential new antibiotics from fungi and other natural sources. After moving to the Princeton Research Laboratory of American Can Company, he was involved in the synthesis of performance chemicals for water and wastewater treatment based on the lignin by-products of the pulping and papermaking processes.
From 1983 to 2008, Watts was at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT), primarily in the Otto York Center for Environmental Engineering and Science, retiring as executive director. His research emphasis was in the area of prevention of industrial pollution and sustainability, and he taught courses in environmental science and environmental policy at NJIT. He currently consults in the areas of providing technical assistance to communities impacted by environmental contamination and in sustainable remediation. He also serves as a guest lecturer at Indiana University and Vincennes University.