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MSU microbiologist receives NIH fellowship

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By Evelyn Boswell MSU NEWS SERVICE

BOZEMAN – Ryan Jackson has spent the past two years investigating how bacteria fend off invading viruses.

Jackson uses his expertise in X-ray crystallography to determine the molecular structure of bacterial ribonucleo proteins that ward off viruses. By analyzing X-ray diffraction patterns from crystalline proteins, Jackson is able to determine the location of each atom in biological machines, which are part of an immune system inside bacteria that identifies and destroys invading DNA.

Now the Montana State University microbiologist has received a $100,000 two-year fellowship from the National Institutes of Health to continue his work in this hot new field of science, work that has already attracted international attention for him and his mentor, Blake Wiedenheft.

“NIH’s investment in Ryan is a major stepping stone for his early career in science and a huge endorsement for research at Montana State University,” Wiedenheft said. “These sorts of awards are rare at any institution, and I think this is something that the MSU campus should celebrate.”

Wiedenheft hired Jackson almost two years ago as a postdoctoral researcher in his laboratory in MSU’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology. Since then, the two have made discoveries they have shared at international conferences and in prestigious scientific journals.

In February, Wiedenheft presented their work on the E. coli immune system at the 2014 Biophysical Society meeting. Out of 150 nominations, his was the first of seven presentations to be featured during the society’s “New and Notable Symposium.”

Jackson, Wiedenheft and their collaborators have also written a paper that has been accepted for publication in a major scientific journal. In fact, Jackson said, they were so busy finishing up that paper that he barely had time to celebrate the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award he received from the NIH. Kirschstein was a pathologist and the first woman to direct an NIH Institute, the National Institute of General Medical Science.

“We high-fived and went back to work,” said Jackson, who earned his bachelor’s degree in biology at Utah State University and completed a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the same school in 2012.

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