Montana State University

MSU’s Blake Wiedenheft invited to inaugurate lecture series by director of National Institute of General Medical Sciences

March 29, 2016 -- By Tracy Ellig, MSU News Service

At the invitation of the director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, MSU assistant professor Blake Wiedenheft will give the inaugural NIGMS Director’s Early Career Scientist Lecture in Bethesda, Maryland, on Wednesday, April 13. The lecture will be streamed live on the Web. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.

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BOZEMAN– A Montana State University faculty member has been invited by the director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to give the inaugural lecture in a series encouraging undergraduates to pursue careers in science.

Blake Wiedenheft, MSU Department of Microbiology and Immunology assistant professor, has been invited to lecture by Jon R. Lorsch, director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, NIGMS. Wiedenheft will deliver the lecture at the National Institutes of Health, NIH, in Bethesda, Maryland, on Wednesday, April 13, from 12-1 p.m. Mountain Time.  The lecture will be streamed live on the web and available for later viewing. MSU’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology is a joint department of the College of Agriculture and the College of Letters and Science.

Part of the NIH, the NIGMS manages a $2.5 billion budget supporting basic biological research that lays the foundation for advances in disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention. NIGMS funding supports more than 3,000 investigators and 4,500 research grants – over 11 percent of the total number of research grants funded by NIH as a whole.

“Blake is an exceptional early career scientist who is doing cutting-edge research involving the CRISPR gene-editing system,” said Lorsch, “In addition to his exemplary research, he’s actively involved in mentoring, education and outreach activities. These qualities make him the perfect choice to give our inaugural lecture for undergraduate students.”

Called the NIGMS Director’s Early Career Scientist Lecture, the series is designed to put dynamic early career scientists who are working on exciting problems before an audience of undergraduate students followed by a moderated question-and-answer session focused on the researcher’s career, Lorsch said.

Wiedenheft’s lecture, “Bacteria, Their Viruses, and How They Taught Us to Perform Genome Surgery,” will be about the use of CRISPR, a gene-editing system named Science magazine’s “breakthrough of the year” for 2015.

“Bacteria, like people, are infected by viruses. These bacteria-infecting viruses are the most abundant biological entities on earth and they have a profound impact on microbial communities in every ecological setting – including inside our own bodies,” said Wiedenheft. “My career has been dedicated to understanding how viruses infect bacteria and also how bacteria are – in some cases – able to fend those viruses off.”

CRISPR gene-editing technology is allowing Wiedenheft to explore the mechanisms driving virus infection and bacterial immunity.

“By understanding these mechanisms, we may be able to engineer cellular machines with new functions for applications in biotechnology and medicine,” Wiedenheft said.

Students who plan to watch the lecture live on the Web can submit questions ahead of time by emailing Jilliene Drayton, NIGMS public liaison, at by Friday, April 8. They can also send questions before or during the lecture on Twitter using the hashtag #ecilecture.

Wiedenheft will also talk about pivotal moments in his history that led him into a life of science.

“I want students to know that it doesn’t matter where they grew up, if they are interested in science there are doors waiting to open for them, and MSU is a key that will help them unlock incredible opportunities,” Wiedenheft said.

The son of a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks fisheries manager, Wiedenheft grew up in Fort Peck, Montana and attended high school in Glasgow, Montana. He graduated from Glasgow High School in 1993 and received his Bachelor of Science in microbiology from MSU in 1998. Wiedenheft worked as a fisheries biologist in Alaska before returning to graduate school at MSU, where he earned his doctorate from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in 2006.

Wiedenheft then moved to Berkeley, California, where he served as a Howard Hughes fellow of the Life Sciences Research Foundation in Jennifer Doudna’s lab at the University of California -Berkeley. In 2012, Wiedenheft returned to MSU, joining the faculty in MSU’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Wiedenheft currently runs an NIH-funded research program focused on understanding the mechanisms bacteria employ to defend themselves from infection and the counter defense strategies that viruses use to subvert these defense systems.

Recent news about Wiedenheft and his lab include:

Wiedenheft Lab

MSU microbiologists advance CRISPR research, publish findings in Nature, Feb. 19, 2016

MSU receives $5.4 million to enhance biomedical research, Sept. 30, 2014

MSU team determines structure of a molecular machine that targets viral DNA for destruction, Aug. 7, 2014

MSU microbiologist receives NIH fellowship to continue pioneering work, (about Ryan Jackson, who was mentored by Wiedenheft), July 16, 2014

MSU team receives Gates grant to study microbial interactions with GI tract, June 4, 2014

Wiednenheft lectures for Kopriva Science Series, Oct. 28, 2013

Research in the Wiedenheft lab is supported by the National Institutes of Health through the Institutional Development Award (IDeA) Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) program under grant P20GM110732 and under grant R01GM108888; the National Science Foundation EPSCoR (EPS-110134); the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust; a young investigator award from Amgen; and the Montana State University Agricultural Experimental Station.

Contact: Blake Wiedenheft at or (406) 994-5009