Ilona Unarta

  • Fellowship in 2022 at University of Wisconsin-Madison

About Ilona Unarta’s work

Dr Ilona Unarta is a computational biophysicist studying the inhibition mechanisms of antibiotics targeting tuberculosis. Emergence of strains resistant to the first-line treatment of tuberculosis, Rifamycin, has caused an urgent need for new antibiotics.

Tuberculosis is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb). RNA Polymerase (RNAP) is the enzyme for transcription and is an effective target for antibiotics. RNAP has a crab-claw like shape, with clamp and β-lobe domains forming the loading gate. The movement of the loading gate has been shown to be important for the initiation of transcription. A promising class of antibiotics targets the initiation of transcription by inhibiting the movement of the loading gate, i.e.: Myxopyronin (Myx), Corallopyronin (Cor), and Fidaxomicin (Fdx). Yet, the role of the clamp and β-lobe is unclear during the dynamic process of transcription initiation.

Therefore, it is unclear how Myx, Cor and Fdx bind and regulate the loading gate to inhibit transcription initiation. Dr Unarta studies the molecular mechanisms of the loading gate dynamics of Mtb RNAP to examine the role of the clamp and β-lobe during the initiation of transcription using Molecular Dynamics simulation and quasi-Markov State Model. She is working to reveal the working mechanism of these antibiotics that inhibit the initiation of transcription of Mtb RNAP, which could lead to the development of more effective antibiotics for the treatment of tuberculosis.


Dr Ilona Unarta is a Research Associate in Chemistry, at the University of Wisconsin Madison. She earned her PhD and MPhil in Bioengineering from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. She has previously won the Chan Tak Kei & Wong Kwai Ying Bioengineering Student Research Award, and a Hong Kong PhD Fellowship.