Montana State University

MSU scientist to lecture Nov. 12 on immune response to viruses that infect bacteria

October 28, 2013 -- MSU News Service

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Tel: (406) 994-4571
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BOZEMAN – Blake Wiedenheft, assistant professor in Montana State University’s Department of Immunology and Infectious Disease, will present "A CRISPR Immune Response to Viruses that Infect Bacteria" on Tuesday, Nov. 12.  

The lecture will begin at 4 p.m. in the Procrastinator Theater in MSU’s Strand Union Building. A reception will follow.

Viruses that infect bacteria are the most diverse and abundant biological agents on the planet, Wiedenheft said. In response to these pervasive viral predators, bacteria have evolved sophisticated adaptive immune systems that rely on Clusters of Regularly Interspersed Palindromic Repeats (CRISPRs). These repetitive elements rapidly expand in response to viral challenge by site-specifically integrating short fragments of the foreign DNA at one end of the evolving CRISPR. Small RNAs derived from CRISPR loci serve as guides that target nucleases to invading DNA targets. 

Wiedenheft’s work aims to understand how these immune systems efficiently find and destroy DNA targets, and how they can be implemented as tools for human genome engineering.

Wiedenheft is a native Montanan, receiving much of this education and training at MSU. As a doctoral student, he worked in the joint laboratories of professors Mark Young and Trevor Douglas at the Thermal Biology Institute, where his work focused on the viruses that infect microorganisms that thrive in boiling-acid environments. After completing his Ph.D. in 2007, Wiedenheft joined professor Jennifer Doudna’s laboratory at UC-Berkeley as a Life Sciences Fellow of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. He recently joined the faculty at MSU, where his research team is currently focused on understanding the mechanisms of CRISPR RNA-guided adaptive immunity and how these immune systems can be leveraged for new applications in medicine and biotechnology.

Wiedenheft’s lecture is presented by the Kopriva Science Seminar Series, which is funded through an endowment created by Phil Kopriva, a 1957 microbiology graduate from MSU. Kopriva, who died in 2002, also created an endowment to fund the Kopriva Graduate Fellowship Program, which provides support and opportunities for graduate students in the College of Letters and Science, particularly in the biomedical sciences. The series features four to six seminars annually, with talks provided by MSU graduate students, faculty members and guest speakers. For more information about this and other Kopriva lectures, visit http://www.montana.edu/lettersandscience/kopriva.html

Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or evelynb@montana.edu