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New Mexico State University


               Shelley Lusetti

Chemistry and Biochemistry Department,
College of Arts and Sciences

Repair of Damaged Chromosomes Mediated by the Bacterial RecN Protein


(December 6, 2013)  New Mexico State University celebrated the accomplishments of College of Arts and Sciences faculty member Shelley Lusetti at a Research Rally held Friday, Dec. 6.   Lusetti, associate professor in the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department, has received an R01 grant of $1.3 million from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health, to study “Repair of Damaged Chromosomes Mediated by the Bacterial RecN Protein” over the next five years.

Her research involves mechanisms at the molecular level and could help explain why some cells become resistant to ionizing radiation, which causes damage leading to DNA double-strand breaks. Ionizing radiation uses include food supply sterilization, as well as cancer treatment.  If cancer returns, however, it is often resistant to radiation therapy.  “Cells are frequently damaged and what we study is the enzymes that repair that DNA, and try to figure out exactly what their molecular function is,” Lusetti said. “We’re trying to reconstitute pathways that repair DNA by taking the individual proteins out of the cell.  Until we understand the basic mechanism of DNA repair, we cannot understand why some diseases occur – especially diseases such as cancer.” 

The information for cells to function is encoded in DNA, which is constantly threatened by damaging agents.  RecN is a protein critical to DNA repair and maintenance. Lusetti explained that long-term effects occur when there is a problem with the repair processes.  “We are trying to understand how cells become resistant to radiation,” she said. “Sensitivity to radiation varies by organism.  We happen to be very sensitive to radiation but a lot of bacterial organisms are resistant to radiation.  One of our favorite model organisms is Deinococcus radiodurans, one of the most DNA-damage resistant organisms known.”  Lusetti is monitoring the relationship between RecN and RecA, another protein essential to DNA maintenance. 

In her presentation, Lusetti credited several current and former students for their contributions to the project – especially Lee Uranga, Emigdio Reyes and Praveen Patidar for collecting the data for the grant.  “One of the aims of our work is to reconstitute entire pathways in-vitro so we can specifically assign functions to particular proteins.  That is the overall goal of this grant.  We have already started to put a lot of these proteins together.  We should have a general model of the initial steps of combinational DNA repair out within the next few months.” 

- Article by Isabel A. Rodriguez; photo by Darren Phillips.  See more at newscenter.nmsu.edu

Project funded through a grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of the National Institutes of Health.

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