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Biochemistry Alum’s Research Selected for Science Magazine Cover
Biochemistry Alum’s Research Selected for Science Magazine Cover

September 19, 2014

Secrets to bacterial immune system, or CRISPR, unlocked

Susquehanna University alumnus Sabin Mulepati is the lead author of the journal article on the latest cover of Science magazine. And he credits his start in scientific research to Susquehanna-an all-undergraduate liberal arts and science college geared toward providing science students with hands-on research opportunities.

A member of the Class of 2008, Mulepati graduated from Susquehanna with a degree in biochemistry. He then earned his Ph.D. in biophysics from Johns Hopkins University, where he conducted research that led to this remarkable achievement being recognized by arguably the most prestigious science journal in the United States.

"For any scientist, getting your work recognized is a big deal. I'm happy about it. It was not expected, but I'm glad the community appreciates the results," Mulepati said. He is currently studying the interplay between chromosome structure and gene expression as postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University.

Scientific start at Susquehanna

Mulepati began doing research with Wade Johnson, associate professor and the department chair in chemistry, and was soon able to envision his future as a scientist.

"I had no idea what scientific research was until I got to Susquehanna. The great thing about Susquehanna was that ... the faculty are so receptive to getting their students involved in research early on," Mulepati said. "That's the key. I was able to work in a laboratory setting and there are lots of classes showing how science is done in real life. I had a very good idea of what science is and how I can be involved in such a process-and that prepared me well for graduate school. I hit the ground running because of that."

What the research means

The study's findings, which Mulepati co-authored with Annie Héroux and Scott Bailey, the study leader and an associate professor in Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School's Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, explain the complex internal defenses of bacteria. "These bacteria, we think about them as small, but they're so sophisticated that they're able to recognize any foreign particles trying to take over their cells," Mulepati said. "The paper describes that mechanism of how that immune system, called CRISPR in bacteria and archaea, is able to find out the viral DNA before it's too late."

With the bacteria's immune system cracked, Mulepati thinks this research is the key to unlocking some of science's most pressing issues.

"It has lots of applications because it's such a specific system that the bacteria can use to find foreign DNA in terms of the DNA sequence," he said. "It has applications in genome editing and curing cancer. Or we can use this system or manipulate the process to understand more or apply this toward how we fight diseases or make new antibiotics."