Traveling across the globe to study a tiny protein

March 26, 2012

Doc­toral can­di­date Jay­lene Ollivierre works with a small bac­te­rial pro­tein that reg­u­lates the activity of larger DNA repair com­plexes in Northeastern’s DNADamage Recog­ni­tion and Tol­er­ance Lab­o­ra­tory led by chem­istry and chem­ical biology assis­tant pro­fessor Penny Beuning.

That pro­tein, called UmuD (pro­nounced yoo-​​myoo-​​d), has been studied for 20 years, Ollivierre said, “but it keeps sur­prising us.”

DNA damage response pro­teins, Ollivierre explained, are error-​​prone and fre­quently cause muta­tions, which can make bac­teria unsus­cep­tible to antibi­otics. “This work is impor­tant for under­standing and poten­tially com­bat­ting antibi­otic resis­tance,” said Beuning.

Ear­lier this month, Ollivierre received an East Asia and Pacific Summer Insti­tutes fel­low­ship from the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion to con­tinue studying UmuD at the Uni­ver­sity of Wol­lon­gong in Australia.

She views the two-​​month expe­ri­ence as a unique oppor­tu­nity to use what she’s learned about UmuD to tackle ques­tions related to DNAreplication.

A big part of the pro­gram is to expose stu­dents to sci­ence policy, infra­struc­ture and cul­ture while forming col­lab­o­ra­tions that will help us through grad school and beyond,” Ollivierre said.

She will col­lab­o­rate with Uni­ver­sity of Wol­lon­gong bio­log­ical chem­istry pro­fessor Nick Dixon, whom she met in 2008 at a North­eastern sem­inar on his research. The tech­nology used in Dixon’s lab, which Ollivierre said “uti­lizes a host of bio­phys­ical tech­niques to study mul­ti­pro­tein DNA repli­ca­tion com­plexes,” com­ple­ments the tools used in Beuning’s lab.

For example, Ollivierre will use a tech­nique called native mass spec­trom­etry to study how UmuD inter­acts with the pro­tein com­po­nents of a cel­lular machine called DNA Pol III, which is respon­sible for DNArepli­ca­tion. The tech­nique, she said, “is espe­cially useful for ana­lyzing com­plexes that con­tain dynamic pro­teins like UmuD.”

When a strand of DNA becomes dam­aged — because of either spon­ta­neous muta­tions or impact by external fac­tors, such as viruses, UVradi­a­tion or toxic chem­i­cals — Pol III tem­porarily shuts down oper­a­tions, while another set of cel­lular machines, transle­sion syn­thesis poly­merases, begin the process of DNA repair.

We will explore the hypoth­esis that UmuD has a role in this switch from repli­ca­tion to repair,” Ollivierre said. “We believe that UmuD somehow reg­u­lates com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the two processes.”

Beuning praised Ollivierre’s ded­i­ca­tion to the research. “She has been intrepid in her pur­suits to under­stand UmuD func­tion at a very high level,” Beuning said. “The fel­low­ship is a fit­ting recog­ni­tion for her truly cre­ative work and allows her to take her research to the next level.”