Caitlin McMahon, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor; Organic and Biochemistry

Contact Information

  • 251-6299
  • 104 Zeis Hall

Office Hours

  • Monday 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
  • Wednesday 8:00 pm - 9:00 pm
  • Thursday 8:30 am - 9:30 am
  • Note: And by appointment. Online (see Moodle for link).

Courses Taught

  • CHEM 111 General Chemistry Lab
  • CHEM 231 Organic Chemistry


  • Ph.D. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • B.S. Messiah College

About Me

I am originally from southeastern Pennsylvania and graduated with a B.S. in Chemistry in 2010 from Messiah College, a liberal arts college in Mechanicsburg, PA. After undergraduate school, I did a year of service in Central African Republic before beginning graduate studies at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I received my Ph.D. in Chemistry from UNC-CH in 2016 for my research working with Professor Erik Alexanian on developing new transition metal-catalyzed carbon-carbon bond-forming reactions for organic synthesis. I then started postdoctoral research with Professor Laura Kiessling at University of Wisconsin – Madison and then Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I learned chemical biology and studied protein-carbohydrate interactions. I joined the faculty at UNCA in 2019 and am excited to be back at a liberal arts school with the opportunity to teach chemistry and biochemistry and lead students in research. Outside of work, I enjoy traveling, exploring outside, reading, and watching sports.

Research Interests

My research is situated at the interface of organic chemistry and chemical biology. Antibiotic resistance and pathogenic bacterial biofilms are detrimental to human health. Bacteria communicate by secreting small molecule signals that trigger changes in gene expression (e.g. quorum sensing) that can lead to biofilm formation. During the process of biofilm formation, bacteria capitalize on specific interactions with other bacteria and their host. Initial bacterial adhesion to host cells and aggregation is dependent on protein-carbohydrate interactions. My research group will use the following approaches to study bacterial adhesion and communication systems with the long-term objective of using synthetic chemistry to inhibit microbial biofilm formation and decrease virulence.

  1. Bacteria use proteins called lectins to adhere to the host. Agents that block this step can function as new antivirulents. We will design and synthesize carbohydrate-based inhibitors of pathogenic bacterial lectins such as F17G, GafD, and SfaS from E. coli and SabA from H. pylori.
  2. Quorum sensing is important for bacterial pathogenesis and virulence. My plan is to enhance the potency of quorum sensing inhibitors by devising ligands with electrophilic functional groups for covalent modification of proteins associated with autoinducer-2 (AI-2) quorum sensing signal synthesis (LuxS) and receptor binding (LsrB).

These interdisciplinary projects will allow students in my lab the opportunity to learn and develop skills and techniques in organic synthesis, bacterial protein expression and purification, biochemical binding assays, and microbiology.

Remote Office Hours

  • Zoom (sign up sheet on Moodle or wait in waiting room) or email for separate appointment
  • Zoom Meeting Link
  • Meeting ID: 818 577 7532
  • Passcode: CMCM