Lab Members 


Dr. Blake Wiedenheft

I like viruses. My career has been dedicated to understanding the mechanisms that viruses use to manipulate their hosts and the counter defense systems that microbes employ to defend themselves from infection. As a pre-doctoral fellow, my dissertation focused on the unusual viruses that infect thermoacidophilic archaea. In what was maybe the best Ph.D. project ever, I traveled around the globe collecting samples and isolate viruses from geothermal features located in some of the world's wildest places (e.g., Yellowstone National Park, Kamchatka Russia, etc.). The resilience of life in these seemingly inhospitable environments (i.e., +80C and ~pH3) fueled my curiosity to understand the genetic, biochemical, and structural basis for life at high temperatures.

Today I continue to be intrigued by the mechanisms of resistance but instead of high temperate my lab aims to understand how bacteria contend with pervasive viral predators. Our work focuses primarily on understanding the structural and functional basis of adaptive immunity in bacteria.

Curriculum Vitae

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Anna Nemudraia

"My favorite question is “Why?”. I want to know not only how life works, but why it works the way it does. This question has been driving my scientific career through very diverse fields. I started my scientific path in Siberia, studying tick-borne pathogens. After completing my masters, I then earned a PhD in Molecular Biology developing anti-cancer drugs. It was a lot of animal work. No brag, just fact: now I can inject mice in the tail vein with my eyes closed. In 2018, I made an exciting switch to gene editing and became a part of Wiedenheft lab."

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Artem Nemudryi

My passion is gene editing. I feel extremely lucky to work in science today, when we have power to alter DNA of all living organisms, including our own species. My scientific journey started with induced pluripotent stem cells and eventually led me to CRISPR/Cas9. I want to improve this technique and contribute to its advance to clinical applications. My dream is to see the world, where genetic diseases could be cured as easy as a runny nose.

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Ava Graham

I am an undergraduate student studying Biochemistry and Cell Biology/Neuroscience. I spend my time in the lab exploring Type III CRISPR systems through cloning, expression, and recombinant protein purification techniques. When I'm not doing research, I enjoy playing the piano and violin, hiking, skiing, and reading. 

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Agusta (Gussie) Little

I am currently working on the SARS-CoV-2 genome sequencing project which involves sequencing positive COVID patient samples and assigning lineages in order to track variants within the community. I attended Montana State University for my undergraduate studies and received a bachelors in cell biology and neuroscience as well as a bachelors in food and nutrition. Although my current role in the lab is as a research assistant, I hope to transition into a graduate program in 2023 and continue my education in the Wiedenheft lab.

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Nathanial Burman

Nathaniel Burman

During my Masters work here at MSU, I developed skills in Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM) and the Cryo-EM workflow for both Single Particle & Tomography experiments. I have a great appreciation for the physics that govern the TEM and love solving the unique problems associated with optimizing new protocols, be it sample preparation or data collection. We are in an exciting time for the field of Cryo-EM as the associated technology is progressing rapidly, bringing more and more answers to complex biological questions within our grasp as scientists.

In the Wiedenheft lab, I research prokaryotic immune response, hoping to use Cryo-EM to examine this process in situ at high resolution with visual proteomics experiments.

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Trevor Zahl

I am fascinated by interactions between parasitic genetic elements and their hosts. Specifically, I am interested in how we can steal the machinery that mediates these interactions and apply it to improve today's human experience. Currently, I am focused on interrogating the function of a wildly diverse group of prokaryotic argonautes (pAgos). I hope we can harness the various biological roles of pAgos to usher in the next generation of genome editing and molecular diagnostic technologies.

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Murat Buyukyoruk

I am a graduate student in the Microbiology and Immunology program at Montana State University. I am originally from Turkey and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Bioengineering with Microbiology and Genetics minors from MSU. My research focuses on the functional versatility of Type I-F CRISPR-Cas systems. Apart from being a graduate student, I enjoy hiking, biking, traveling and, playing guitar.

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Dr. Royce Wilkinson

I enjoy the interface between chemistry and biology. I've worked in labs doing organic synthesis to natural product isolation to protein biochemistry. One of the basic outcomes of scientific research is the identification and characterization of biological entities (natural products, proteins/enzymes, etc.) and adapting them as tools for use in the lab or to bring a benefit to society. CRISPR-based genome editing is one of the latest 'headline producing' examples of the ways that basic scientific research can lead to paradigm shifts in the way we do science or live our lives.

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PubMed Bibliography

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Will Henriques

I am interested in the interplay between genomes and their environment. I was carried into the Wiedenheft lab by a desire to understand the architecture of the transcriptional programs executed by genomes in response to salient stimuli – threat, feast, famine, etc - and how those programs are updated, hijacked, and hacked.

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Shishir Pandey

I'm currently a Ph.D. student at Montana State University. The CRISPR system diversifies due to the selection pressure exerted by phages on host cells in an ongoing molecular arms race. CRISPR-associated (cas) proteins experience rapid evolution and may occasionally merge with domains outside of the CRISPR system. My research focuses on a unique system where a cas protein is genetically fused with the antitoxin of the toxin-antitoxin system. By using cryo-EM structural and biochemical experiments, I aim to demonstrate that the CRISPR system regulates a toxin via allosteric mechanisms. 

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Lenny Triem

I'm an undergraduate student studying microbiology and music. I am intrigued by the unique actions of different nucleic acid-binding CRISPR complexes, and how those complexes can be repurposed to solve current issues, such as the efficacy and availability of rapid viral diagnostic tests. I am currently working on a biochemical analysis of a different reporter system for a Type III CRISPR-based viral diagnostic developed here at the Wiedenheft lab. Outside of academics, I enjoy reading, hiking, cooking, and making and listening to music.

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Jarrett Bowman

I am an undergraduate student studying microbial biotechnology. I research Type I CRISPR systems using expression, protein purification, and Cryo-EM techniques. I was drawn to the Wiedenheft lab with the desire to be at the forefront of science. In my off time I enjoy lifting weights, snowboarding and hiking all around Montana.

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Kaiya Vierra

I am an undergraduate student studying Biochemistry here at MSU. My focus in lab is investigating Type III CRISPR systems containing Cas proteins with interesting domain fusions. I am working on specific effectors on these domains through transformations, expression, and protein purification techniques. When I'm not in the lab, I enjoy hiking, climbing, crocheting, and reading. 

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Gunnar Shanafelt

I am an undergraduate studying biological and chemical engineering. In the lab I am working on finding proteins that will help with the use of type III CRISPRs as a diagnostic tool. Outside of the lab I enjoy going backpacking and camping.

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Senuri de Silva

I am a Graduate Student at Montana State University working towards my PhD. I received my Bachelor of Science from University of Colombo in Immunology and Molecular Biology where I mostly studied allergies. I got the opportunity to join the Wiedenheft Lab in 2023. I am currently working on RNA phages and hope to delve into them for my PhD research. During my free time I enjoy a little bit of singing, playing guitar, and cooking.

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Jerrin George

I am primarily engaged in understanding the intricacies of biological systems co-evolved due to symbiotic or antagonistic relationships between mobile genetic elements and their microbial hosts. Further, I am interested in harnessing their potential to revolutionize biotechnology and genome editing.

My academic journey began in chemical biology. I pioneered a method to label specific gene loci with synthetic small molecules using a nuclease dead CRISPR-Cas system and bioorthogonal click chemistry. This work led me to the Sternberg lab for my postdoctoral training; supported by a cross-disciplinary fellowship from the Human Science Frontier Program, I shifted my focus entirely to life sciences to delve into the targeting pathways of type V-K CRISPR-associated transposases (CASTs). At the Wiedenheft lab, my research focuses on unraveling the structure and mechanism of prokaryotic immune systems encoded as cargo by CASTs.

Outside of my professional pursuits, I am an avid photographer, and I relish long hikes and exploring the vastness of the wilderness.

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Lab Alum

Helen H Lee


Kamrin Sorensen