Penny Beuning, an assis­tant pro­fessor of chem­ical biology and biotech­nology at North­eastern, this month received a National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion (NSF) Fac­ulty Early-​​Career Devel­op­ment grant to study how cells adapt to DNA-​​damaging agents.

The $994,655 CAREER grant will fund a five-​​year project that seeks to under­stand the role pro­tein com­plexes play in how a cell’s DNA mol­e­cules react to expo­sure to a variety of com­mon­place, poten­tially dam­aging agents, including free rad­i­cals and ultra­vi­olet light.

Cells encounter more than 30,000 dam­aging events every day, Beuning notes. Most of the time, the cells are able to repair any DNA damage that occurs. In rare instances, the repair process gets dis­rupted, and muta­tions result.

Beuning says she and mem­bers of her laboratory—who include under­grad­u­ates studying chem­istry, bio­chem­istry and biology—will look at the damage response in bac­teria, exposing cells to a range of agents and mon­i­toring the ways the cells’ pro­teins react.

This work, she says, “could ulti­mately lead to a greater under­standing of antibi­otic resis­tance in bac­teria, and con­tribute to a body of knowl­edge sur­rounding the devel­op­ment of drugs that would pre­vent antibi­otic resistance.”

Beuning, who ear­lier this year was named a Cot­trell Scholar in recog­ni­tion of her research in DNA damage tol­er­ance, says the NSF grant is a major wind­fall for her work.

It’s a tremen­dous honor and respon­si­bility,” she says, “espe­cially because a major com­po­nent of the grant involves get­ting under­grad­uate stu­dents involved in and excited about research. I got really excited about doing research when I was an under­grad­uate. It’s a great time in a student’s career to be exposed to the lab.”

Graham Jones, pro­fessor and chair of chem­istry and chem­ical biology, says the depart­ment is delighted with Beuning’s achievement.

This is a sig­nif­i­cant award that will propel her research in DNA repair for­ward,” Jones says. “It’s also an honor for North­eastern. We look for­ward to many great things from her lab­o­ra­to­ries in the years ahead.”

In addi­tion to her ongoing projects, Beuning plans to develop a summer pro­gram that offers under­grad­u­ates from diverse back­grounds struc­tured research expe­ri­ences. The pro­gram will help stu­dents build science-​​related com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills and learn how to con­duct research responsibly.

Her inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approach to research, she explains, trans­lates into “an excel­lent training oppor­tu­nity for stu­dents as well.”

CAREER grants are given to sup­port junior fac­ulty who serve as exem­plary teacher-​​scholars through out­standing research, excel­lent edu­ca­tion and the inte­gra­tion of edu­ca­tion and research.

In May, when Beuning was named Northeastern’s first Cot­trell Scholar, she received $100,000 from the Research Cor­po­ra­tion for Sci­ence Advance­ment, founded in 1912 by Fred­erick Gardner Cottrell.