Montana State University

Free lecture about mathematical models of gene transcription set for Jan. 25 at MSU

January 7, 2016 -- MSU News Service

Tamra Heberling, an MSU doctoral candidate, will present a lecture about mathematical models of gene transcription with applications in pharmaceutical production on Jan. 25. The lecture, which is part of the Kopriva Science Seminar Series, is free and open to the public.(MSU photo by Kelly Gorham)

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A free public lecture about mathematical models of gene transcription with applications in pharmaceutical production will be given on Monday, Jan. 25, at Montana State University.

The lecture will begin at 4:10 p.m. in the Procrastinator Theater in the Strand Union Building. A reception will follow in the Leigh Lounge.

Tamra Heberling, an MSU doctoral candidate in the Department of Mathematical Sciences and the recipient of a Kopriva Graduate Fellowship, will present "They Transcribe with a Little Help from their Friends: A Mechanistic Model for Cooperative Behavior of RNA Polymerases.”

In fast-transcribing genes, such as a ribosomal RNA gene in E. coli bacteria, many RNA polymerases (RNAPs) transcribe the DNA simultaneously. During transcription, RNAPs are often interrupted by pauses, which can cause "traffic jams" between RNAPs just like cars at red lights. However, transcription seems to be faster with multiple RNAPs as opposed to a single RNAP. Heberling proposes that the interaction between RNAPs, using the torque they produce on DNA, can explain this apparent paradox.

Heberling is part of a research team that has incorporated the torque mechanism into a stochastic model and simulated transcription both with and without torque. Their results illustrate that the torque causes shorter pause durations and fewer collisions between polymerases, suggesting that the torsional interaction of RNAPs is an important mechanism in maintaining fast transcription times. Because of its rapid growth resulting from its fast-transcribing genes, E. coli is used to produce important drugs such as insulin for diabetics. Fully understanding the interactions between RNAPs could allow researchers to optimize this process.

Heberling’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 seminars by MSU graduate students, faculty members and guest speakers. For more information about this and other Kopriva lectures, please visit

Jody Sanford, (406) 994-7791 or