Monday, May 25, 2020 6:30-8:30 PM
Title: The Things Computers Can Teach Us About the Chemistry of DNA and RNA
Abstract: The overall objective of research performed in the Wetmore laboratory is to use computer simulations to understand the chemistry of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA). We are interested in revealing fundamental details of how these critical biomolecules are modified and processed within our cells, and uncovering how to exploit the properties of modified nucleic acids in novel applications in medicine and biotechnology. Modified nucleic acids can arise in the form of DNA damage from external influences (e.g., UV light, pollutants, carcinogenic compounds) or can be introduced by enzymes to regulate cellular activity (i.e., epigenetic modifications). Alternatively, synthetically modified nucleic acids can be used in many applications including medicine (i.e., bioprobes, antimicrobial/anticancer agents) and nanotechnology (i.e., biomaterials). Computer modelling of modified nucleic acids can provide unique molecular-level insights into biosystems and cellular reactions. These insights are required to predict experimental outcomes or clarify discrepancies between experimental hypotheses and results. This talk will illustrate the usefulness of this approach by discussing recent topics of interest in the Wetmore lab such as the structural implications of damage to DNA nucleobases, the pathways used to copy and repair of damaged DNA, the impact of naturally occurring RNA modifications on protein synthesis, and the function of aptamers designed to detect toxins.
Dr. Stacey D. Wetmore is a Professor of Chemistry and Tier I Board of Governors Research Chair at the University of Lethbridge. She received a BSc (1995) from Mount Allison University (Sackville, Canada) and a PhD (1999) from Dalhousie University (Halifax, Canada) in computational chemistry under the supervision of Prof. Russell J. Boyd. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship with Prof. Leo Radom at the Australian National University (Canberra), she launched an independent research program at Mount Allison in 2001 and was recruited to Lethbridge in 2006 as a Tier II Canada Research Chair in Computational Chemistry (renewed in 2012).
Dr. Wetmore's research program uses computer modelling (computational chemistry) to study nucleic acid chemistry. She uses calculations to answer questions not easily addressed by experiments and successfully addresses key questions in the field. Dr. Wetmore tackles problems regarding the mutagenicity and repair susceptibility of harmful DNA lesions, the function of enzymes that repair DNA damage in our cells, the impact of naturally-occurring modifications to RNA, and the function of nucleic acid aptamers. She has established active and productive collaborations with top U of L, Canadian and international researchers. Dr. Wetmore has published 151 peer-reviewed articles, delivered 99 invited lectures, and secured over $5.8 million in funding from institutional, provincial and national agencies.
Her expertise has led to her appointment as Co-Editor-in-Chief for the Canadian Journal of Chemistry, a member of Editorial Boards (RSC Advances, Molecules) and a chairperson of grant selection committees (NSERC, Compute/Calcul Canada Resource Allocation). Dr. Wetmore takes great pride in the mentorship she provides to her trainees, which have included over 100 undergraduate researchers (21 Honours students) and 7 high school students, as well as 21 graduate students and 4 postdoctoral fellows. Her trainees have been extremely successful receiving highly-competitive scholarships (totalling more than $1.8 million), co-authoring publications (> 130 published), delivering conference presentations (> 400 oral/poster presentations), winning presentation awards (> 60) and continuing careers in science. She was the first UofL faculty member to be elected as a Fellow of the Chemical Institute of Canada in 2018, a distinctive membership that recognizes members who have made outstanding contributions to their fields.