Awards Database

Cottrell Scholar Awards - 2016

Lauren Waters

Assistant Professor of Chemistry, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh

Manganese Homeostasis in Bacteria: Characterization of a Mn-Regulated Small Protein and Identification of Novel Mn Exporters

Understanding precisely how bacteria sense, respond, and adapt to stress conditions is essential to developing new treatments for infectious diseases, as well as preserving a healthy environment.

To advance this fundamental research, Lauren Waters, assistant professor of chemistry, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, is investigating how manganese (chemical symbol Mn) behaves in the bacterium Escherichia coli, a widely studied organism. There are many different strains of E. coli, most of which are harmless, while others cause food poisoning and other ailments.

“Many pathogenic and symbiotic bacteria require manganese to survive in eukaryotic host tissues,” Waters notes, “while other bacteria require manganese for cellular differentiation and energy production.” However, she adds, excess Mn can be toxic to organisms from bacteria to humans, most likely by displacing other metals and rendering key proteins inactive.

Proteins perform the work of most living cells. Waters is investigating two proteins, designated MntS and MntP, both of which act within E. coli to regulate manganese levels when the bacterium is unable to obtain iron to sustain its biology or under conditions of oxidative stress. Specifically, she will examine the interaction of these proteins, identify the critical amino acids for their function, and investigate similar molecules in other types of bacteria.

For the educational component to the Cottrell Scholar Award, Waters plans to alter upper-level biochemistry courses to incorporate active learning approaches, promote forms of learning based on analysis and evaluation rather than rote memorization, and provide more genuine lab experiences, with an emphasis on reaching first-generation college and non-traditional students.

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