Celeste PetersonLife isn’t always fair, even on the cellular level. Over millions of years, living organisms have learned this lesson the hard way. When food is scarce, many living cells enter a state of dormancy to await better conditions.

Celeste Peterson (pictured), an assistant professor of biology, has received a prestigious grant from the Research Corporation for Science Advancement (RCSA) to investigate the biochemical pathways leading from cell starvation to dormancy.

Keys to Survival

Understanding this process is important because cell dormancy often enables resistance to environmental stresses – including attacks by a larger organism’s immune system, as well as such modern “stresses” as antibiotic treatment. Peterson will focus on the regulation and degradation of an enzyme found in bacteria that degrades the regulator of the dormant state.

“When nutrients are abundant, the regulator of the dormant state is rapidly destroyed by the enzyme.” Peterson explained. “When nutrients are scarce, degradation ceases, allowing the cells to enter a state of dormancy and promote survival under stressful conditions.”

The RCSA grants are intended to encourage young professors to pursue their research, while promoting lab research as a vital component of students’ undergraduate education.

Students in the Lab

Students will work side-by-side in the lab with Peterson in the summers. They will work to understand how altering nutrient conditions and the ability of the cell to consume its main energy currency, ATP, can lead to a change in degradation.

“I enjoy working closely with the students, trouble-shooting experiments, analyzing results, and coming up with novels ideas together,” Peterson said. “Oftentimes the students will have a completely new perspective on the science and ask fresh questions about our experiments.”

The students, in turn, will learn state-of-the-art laboratory skills that will prepare them for future opportunities in the biotechnology field and graduate school.

Life Sciences Initiative

This grant and Peterson’s research are part of a broader Life Sciences initiative at Suffolk. This initiative will provide further support for the study of the life sciences, as well as more opportunities for internships and post-graduate career placement, and includes the science classrooms in the new 20 Somerset building. Peterson and her students will continue their research and discovery in the new building when it opens in the fall of 2015.