Melanie Berkmen, PhD

Professor & Chair, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Environment & Physics

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On sabbatical, AY 2023-2023


  • PhD, University of Wisconsin, Madison
  • BS, University of Dayton, summa cum laude

Research Interests

Bacteria have the remarkable ability to acquire new genes in a process known as mating, or conjugation. Mating has played a profound role in bacterial evolution by spreading genes that allow bacteria to adapt to new environments or gain resistance to various antibiotics. During conjugation, DNA is transferred from one cell to another through a specialized translocation channel in the membrane. Many of the molecular mechanisms behind the conjugation process remain a mystery. My research group focuses on characterizing several interacting protein components of the conjugation machinery of the model bacterium Bacillus subtilis (ConB, ConC, ConD, ConE, ConG, ConQ, and CwlT). Our research uses a combination of bioinformatics, molecular, cellular and biochemical approaches to provide insight into how these proteins function, interact, and localize within the cell. As these proteins are conserved, our findings will apply to the conjugation machinery of numerous Gram-positive bacteria, including many important human pathogens, and provide a deeper understanding of a major mechanism mediating horizontal gene transfer.

Besides bacterial mating, I have two other research interests. In my Advanced Biochemical Techniques and Research course (CHEM L332), my students explore the biochemical underpinnings of metabolic disease and cancer caused by mutations in fumarase, the Krebs cycle enzyme and tumor suppressor. In addition, I am collaborating with Celeste Peterson (Associate Professor, Department of Biology, Suffolk University) to explore the use virtual reality for teaching visualization of biomolecular structure (proteins, DNA) in our courses.

All of my research is conducted by Suffolk University undergraduate students. Please see me if you are interested in joining my lab!

Employment History

  • 2021-present
    Suffolk University, Boston, MA, Professor of Biochemistry
  • 2013-2021
    Suffolk University, Boston, MA, Associate Professor of Biochemistry
  • 2007-2013
    Suffolk University, Boston, MA, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry

Recent Publications

*Indicates a Suffolk University undergraduate student co-author
  • Murthy* AC, Aleksanyan* N, Morton* GM, Toyoda* HC, Kalashyan* M, Chen* S, Ragucci* AE, Broulidakis* MP, Swerdlow* KJ, Bui* MNN, Muccioli* M, Berkmen MB. (2023) Characterization of ConE, the VirB4 Homolog of the Integrative and Conjugative Element ICEBs1 of Bacillus subtilis. Journal of Bacteriology, 206(6): e0003323.
  • Peterson CN, Tavana* SZ, Akinleye* OP, Johnson WH, Berkmen MB. (2020) An idea to explore: Use of augmented reality for teaching three-dimensional biomolecular structures. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 48:276-282.
  • Grocott* O, Phanor* SK, Fung F, Thibert RL, Berkmen MB. (2019) Clinical report and biochemical analysis of a patient with fumarate hydratase deficiency. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A, 182A:504-507.
  • Bulku* A, Weaver TM, Berkmen MB. (2018) Biochemical characterization of two clinically-relevant human fumarase variants defective for oligomerization. The Open Biochemistry Journal, 12:1-15.
  • Auchtung JM, Aleksanyan* N, Bulku* A, Berkmen MB. (2016) Biology of ICEBs1, an integrative and conjugative element in Bacillus subtilis. Plasmid, 86: 14-25.
  • Leonetti* CT, Hamada* MA, Laurer* SJ, Broulidakis* MP, Swerdlow* KJ, Lee CA, Grossman AD, Berkmen MB. (2015) Critical components of the conjugation machinery of the integrative and conjugative element ICEBs1 of Bacillus subtilis. Journal of Bacteriology, 197(15): 2558-67.
  • Berkmen MB, Murthy* AC, Broulidakis* MP. (2014) An Inquiry-Based Laboratory Module to Promote Understanding of the Scientific Method and Bacterial Conjugation. J Microbiol & Biol Educ., 15(2): 321-2.
  • Berkmen MB, Laurer SJ*, Giarusso BK*, Romero R*. (2013) The integrative and conjugative element ICEBs1 of Bacillus subtilis. In Bacterial Integrative Mobile Genetic Elements. (Roberts AP, Mullany P ed.). Landes Biosciences, Austin, TX.

Oral Presentations

  • 2022
    Advances in Molecular and Cellular Biology & their Clinical & Biotechnology Applications, Madison, WI
  • 2019
    Northeastern University, Boston, MA
  • 2016
    Type IV Secretion Systems in Gram-negative and Gram-positive Bacteria, Beilngries, Germany
  • 2016
    University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
  • 2015
    Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
  • 2014
    Emmanuel College, Boston, MA
  • 2013
    7th International Conference on Gram-positive microorganisms, Montecatini Terme, Italy

Professional Activities

  • 2010-present, Member of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • 2004-present, Member of the American Society for Microbiology

Grants & Awards

  • 2016-2023
    New England Biolabs Course Support Award (with Department of Biology)
  • 2013
    Suffolk University Summer Stipend Award
  • 2016-2022
    National Science Foundation RUI Grant: Molecular analysis of two interacting components of the conjugation machinery of Bacillus subtilis
  • 2021 and 2022
    Suffolk University Experiential Learning Grant
  • 2019
    Marion and Jasper White Foundation Travel Fellowship
  • 2017
    College of Arts and Science Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching
  • 2012-2016
    National Science Foundation RUI Grant: Characterization of a conserved ATPase required for conjugation of Bacillus subtilis
  • 2016
    Suffolk University Summer Stipend Award
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Contact Me

Office Hours

Courses Taught

Lecture Courses

  • CHEM-331 Biochemistry I
  • CHEM-332 Biochemistry II
  • CHEM-H332 Honors Biochemistry II
  • CHEM-510 Independent Study
  • CHEM-H510 Honors Independent Study

Lab Courses

  • CHEM-L331 Biochemical Techniques Lab
  • CHEM-L332 Advanced Biochemical Lab