The molecule called deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) encodes the biological instructions that make each species and individuals unique. DNA-- and with it the instructions needed to develop, survive and reproduce-- is the molecular entity that constitutes genome of an organism that is passed from adult to their offspring during reproduction.
Our lab is interested in how certain genetic elements (segments of DNA) cause changes to the arrangement of genomic DNA—a reaction with many health consequences. Genetic elements called transposons, researchers have learned, are able to change positions within a genome or among separate genomes, in effect, by cutting and pasting or copying and pasting themselves from place to place. Drugs that once were effective become ineffective as a result of rearranged DNA in disease-carrying bacteria. We study these rearrangements in the virus Mu, a model system for a wide range of DNA rearrangement reactions that occur from bacteria to humans.
Using biochemical, molecular biological, and biophysical approaches, our lab is learning new detail about the chemical reactions that drive DNA rearrangements. Single-molecule approaches we are developing are helping us answer many questions about how the molecular machines involved in this process work.
In other projects, we focus on two aspects of how a parent bacterial cell divides into two daughter cells and distributes its genetic blueprint. Our experiments using E. coli bacteria are revealing new detail about how the cell organizes its genetic blueprint, its entire genome, and position two replicated copies of the genome inside a parental cell before cell division so that each daughter cell inherits a full complement of the genome. Our second interest is the bacterial cell’s ability to precisely position the membrane that separates the two daughter cells at the middle of the parental cell. Progress in these projects will advance our understanding of the movement of a variety of molecular assemblies produced inside bacterial cells and could provide a basis for developing new drugs to combat disease-carrying bacteria.