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Biochemistry professor Shelley Lusetti, right, works with student Inoka Menikpurage in her laboratory. (Photo by Darren Phillips)
Lusetti and her fellow investigators have received a Major Research Instrumentation grant from the National Science Foundation to acquire an x-ray irradiator and dosimetry system. The cost of the instrumentation is $260,000.
“This will increase the types of research we are able to do at NMSU,” said Lusetti, chemistry and biochemistry professor in the NMSU College of Arts and Sciences.
The team presented the impact of the instrumentation at an NMSU Scholarly Excellence Rally Friday, Feb. 20.
Lusetti’s co-investigators are Immo Hansen, biology; Giancarlo Lopez-Martinez, biology; and Alvaro Romero, entomology professor in the College of Agriculture.
“This equipment will substantially impact the research capabilities of NMSU, enhance the career development of faculty of several scientific fields and provide training and educational opportunities for both gradate and undergraduate students,” researchers explained in their proposal.
The team has identified several research areas which could benefit from use of the new device, including DNA damage studies, insect sterilization, food sterilization, blood sterilization, cancer cell therapy, medical instrumentation sterilization and x-ray mutagenesis, to name a few.
Lusetti’s research focuses on the biochemical roles of novel enzymes involved in DNA damage response pathways and could help understand how enzymes repair DNA and why some cells become resistant to radiation treatment.
The new instrumentation will support Lusetti’s study of the “repair of damaged chromosomes mediated by the bacterial RecN protein,” which is currently funded by a $1.3 million R01 grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, one of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. RecN is a protein critical to DNA repair and maintenance.
Lusetti and her team are also trying to understand how and why Deinococcus radiodurans, a bacteria, can withstand high doses of radiation.
Lopez-Martinez, whose focus is in animal physiology, will use the instrumentation to measure the amount of radiation absorbed by organisms to investigate the ability of animals to handle environmental stress.
Hansen’s lab is examining the effects of sterile insect techniques; by irradiating male mosquitoes, researchers could control the mosquito population and reduce the number of people affected by mosquito-borne viruses.
Similarly, Romero’s lab is aimed at understanding the biology, behavior and control of Turkestan cockroaches.
Mating the females with the radiation-sterile males could lead to a reduction in the pest population, he explained.
So far, the project’s principal investigators have identified 14 researchers from across six departments at NMSU who would use the x-ray irradiator equipment, but Lusetti anticipates the device will be in constant use throughout the entire year. She also hopes to expand the use of the device within the College of Agriculture for plant-based applications.
Unlike other systems which could take up to a week to get usable data for very high dose experiments, the new instrumentation would yield results in as quickly as 20 minutes.
Additionally, Lusetti identified the educational impact of acquiring the instrumentation.
“The faculty on this campus has a history of mentoring its students, and this is something NSF is very interested in,” Lusetti said. “Especially those students from underrepresented groups in STEM fields. Through programs such as the Maximizing Access to Research Careers (MARC) program, we will be able to have training workshops and courses for students across the university. We’ve partnered with those programs in this proposal.”
The x-ray irradiator is fully shielded and self-contained, and can be used almost anywhere. Its features include a broad dynamic radiation dose range and a sample compartment large enough for a variety of applications. It will be housed in Foster Hall.