Microbiology and Molecular Genetics News

Hunter named American Academy of Microbiology fellow

Neil Hunter

March 14, 2016

Neil Hunter, professor of microbiology and molecular genetics in the College of Biological Sciences, has been elected as a fellow in the American Academy of Microbiology, the honorific leadership group of the American Society for Microbiology, which is the world's oldest and largest life-science organization. Hunter also holds an appointment in the department of cell biology and human anatomy in the School of Medicine and is an Investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

As a fellow, Hunter joins a group of eminent leaders in the field of microbiology recognized for their excellence, originality, creativity and exemplary careers in basic and applied research, teaching, clinical and public health, industry or government service. The academy relies on fellows for authoritative advice and information on critical issues in microbiology, from responding to congressional inquiries to organizing meetings and workshops.

Hunter specializes in the study of chromosome repair by homologous recombination, an essential process whereby DNA strands of similar or identical nucleotide sequence are exchanged to direct the error-free repair of breaks in DNA. Recombination is also essential for the formation of normal gamete cells (egg and sperm).

“Homologous recombination is an essential chromosome repair process that preserves the integrity of genomes and fuels evolution,” Hunter said. “Defective recombination is associated with cancer, infertility, miscarriages in pregnancy and birth defects. A large fraction of the estimated one million pregnancies that end in miscarriage in the U.S. as well as chromosomal diseases such as Down Syndrome are associated with defective recombination.”

“By better understanding the molecular mechanisms of recombination, we will understand how the process goes awry in disease, knowledge that we hope will guide the development of diagnostics and treatments for patients” he said.  

Hunter has developed many innovative techniques to monitor the molecular steps of recombination in cells, which have allowed his team to dissect the mechanism with unprecedented detail. “Professor Hunter’s election to the American Academy of Microbiology is a wonderful and well deserved recognition of his elegant contributions to our understanding of recombination and its impact on sexual reproduction,” said Wolf-Dietrich Heyer, chair of the Department of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics.

Hunter is currently focused on understanding how DNA strand-exchange intermediates called joint molecules are processed by cells; the regulation of recombination by targeted protein degradation; and oocyte quality control and the regulation of oocyte reserves. He has published more than 40 scientific papers on these topics and co-edited a recent book on DNA recombination (http://www.cshlpress.com/default.tpl?action=full&--eqskudatarq=1028).

Hunter will be recognized at the Academy Fellows Reception at the American Society for Microbiology meeting on June 18th in Boston, MA.

The University of California, Davis College of Biological Sciences was established in 2005 and is one of four colleges and five schools on the campus. Davis is the only UC campus that boasts a college dedicated solely to the study of biology, and is among only very few colleges in the US to have such an institution. The College offers nine undergraduate and graduate (M.S. or Ph.D.) degrees, six undergraduate minors, and many classes and programs at the university. The majors housed in the CBS were previously part of the Division of Biological Sciences, a division since 1971. UC Davis' biology programs are consistently ranked in the top ten in the nation. Biological Sciences is the most popular major at UC Davis, and 1/4 of the students at the university are within the CBS. In addition, the National Sciences Federation has ranked UC Davis #1 among UC campuses and #13 nationwide for funding in the biology field. For more information, visit UC Davis College of Biological Sciences at http://www.biosci.ucdavis.edu/.

Carole Gan, UC Davis Health System Public Affairs, 916-734-9047, carole.gan@ucdmc.ucdavis.edu

Neil Hunter, UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, 530-754-4401, nhunter@ucdavis.edu

Wolf-Dietrich Heyer, UC Davis College of Biological Sciences, 530-752-3001, wdheyer@ucdavis.edu