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NDSU professors receive National Science Foundation CAREER Awards

Posted on 5/15/2013

Two major national awards received by NDSU professors will bring a combined $1.6 million to biochemistry and to plant pathology research programs at NDSU and provide additional research opportunities for students.

Stuart Haring, Ph.D., assistant professor in biochemistry, and Robert Brueggeman, Ph.D., assistant professor in plant pathology, will each receive five-year Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) awards from the National Science Foundation.

Living cells are the focus of Haring's research, for which he is receiving a five-year award of $992,429 from NSF. It is the largest single CAREER award received at NDSU since 1996. Haring's research examines how cells recognize and repair damaged DNA, before the DNA is permanently mutated. The research, titled "Replication Protein A Modification - Dependent Function in Mitosis and Meiosis," also will provide opportunities to NDSU students in molecular and cellular biology. Much of the current research into cellular dysfunction centers on how to fix cells after they have been broken, due to genetic mutation. Haring's research involves understanding molecular mechanisms of DNA metabolism, which are important in preventing mutations from occurring. This is analogous to performing preventive maintenance, instead of fixing things after they are broken.

"This award will allow us to probe into how Replication Protein A (RPA) modifications affect its cellular function, especially in response to DNA damage," Haring said. "The research also will provide insight into the molecular mechanisms by which modification of RPA directs its many functions, which is currently undetermined. Ultimately, a better understanding of these basic DNA maintenance mechanisms will potentially allow for the development of methods to prevent cellular defects by preventing mutation."

In plant sciences research, Brueggeman is being awarded $623,363 as a five-year CAREER award for research that examines mechanisms of disease resistance in cereal crops. Titled "Rapid stem rust resistance responses in barley; non host resistance," Brueggeman's research will fill gaps in knowledge of the interactions that occur between important pathogens and the cereal hosts that they attack. This includes how the plants mount defensive mechanisms to arrest the pathogen and how environmental factors, including high temperatures, can subvert plant defense against pathogens.

"This research is significant because the understanding of how disease resistance operates against important cereal crop pathogens will allow the maintenance of food security and keep the production of diverse crops an economically viable option for producers," Brueggeman said. "We also need to understand why some important resistance mechanisms don't work in different environmental conditions, including temperature fluctuation."

Brueggeman's research targets fundamental questions about the function of plant immunity and how to breed or engineer resistance mechanisms that are more resilient to changing biotic and environmental stimuli. "This information will allow breeders an understanding of the different mechanisms of disease resistance in barley and other cereal crops, including wheat, which will allow for a more informed deployment of different defense mechanisms to achieve durable genetic resistance," he said.

Efforts also will focus on recruiting underrepresented groups to participate in Brueggeman's research. Students participating in the Nurturing American Tribal Undergraduate Research and Education (NATURE) program have opportunities through a summer research session and a science academy to engage in plant pathology research in Brueggeman's lab. As a member of the Kutenai tribe, Brueggeman notes that similar science opportunities through tribal agencies were instrumental in creating his own interest in plant sciences and genetics. NATURE is an educational outreach program sponsored by the North Dakota Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research.

Brueggeman earned his doctorate in crop sciences from Washington State University, Pullman. Haring earned his doctorate in biological sciences from the University of Iowa, Iowa City.

Since 1996, eighteen faculty members at NDSU have received prestigiousNational Science Foundation CAREER awards. "NDSU researchers continue a standard of excellence that reflect the institution's ability to attract the best and the brightest among new faculty researchers," said Philip Boudjouk, vice president for research, creative activities and technology transfer.

Overall, National Science Foundation CAREER awardees at NDSU have been awarded more than $8.7 million in grants to conduct research in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, civil and electrical engineering, computer science, pharmaceutical sciences, plant sciences, and coatings and polymeric materials. NSF career awardees currently at NDSU include faculty members Gregory Cook, Stuart Haring, Seth Rasmussen, Wenfang Sun, Sivaguru Jayaraman and Uwe Burghaus in chemistry and biochemistry, Sanku Mallik in pharmaceutical sciences, Magdy Abdelrahman, Xuefeng Chu, Kalpana Katti and Eakalak Khan in civil engineering, Kendra Greenlee in biological sciences, Hyunsook Do in computer science and Robert Brueggeman in plant sciences.

The National Science Foundation CAREER program recognizes and supports the early career-development activities of scholars who are likely to become the academic leaders of the 21st century. Recipients are chosen on the basis of creative career development plans that integrate research and education within the context of their university's mission.


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