Roseman studies viral enzyme, wins grant

Assistant Professor of Biology Nancy Roseman was recently awarded a grant of $266,191 through the National Science Foundation to study the biochemistry of the dUTPase enzyme through the vaccinia virus. This grant will enable her and contributing Williams students to study the activity of the enzyme in DNA metabolism, and will also provide insight into the viral/host relationship.

“The bottom line is that I’m looking at the activity of a specific viral enzyme that is involved in DNA metabolism,” Roseman clarifies. Additionally, she notes, “because of the system I am looking at we can look at how [the virus and its host] interact.” She admits it is “not something that is easy to look at,” but special, smallpox-like qualities of the vaccinia virus enable her to study the enzyme in great detail.

The vaccinia virus is related to the smallpox virus which has not appeared since 1977 and currently survives in refrigerators in Atlanta and Moscow. Vaccinia retains certain favorable characteristics of size and function that make it a window into the science of enzymes and virus/host relationships. Not only is it large enough to encode over 200 genes—a rare occurrence among viruses—but it includes in this encoding the script for encoding such metabolic machinery, something that viruses usually rely on their hosts to provide. The virus also replicates its DNA outside the nucleus of the host, providing a clearer picture of the process distinct from that of the host.

Significantly, Roseman received the grant from the NSF for an undergraduate institution. The NSF, Roseman states, is normally “nervous about the ability of undergrads to do research” and this nervousness usually deters them from granting money to such institutions.

For this reason in her grant proposal Roseman stressed that undergraduates generated much of the previous material relevant to the research. She says she believes such grants are really a tribute to the “strength of the students [who do] very fine work in the labs.”

Biology department Chair Daniel Lynch mentioned the extreme competitiveness NSF grants. Undergraduate institutions like Williams are “thrown into the same pool as research institutions” with hopes of being among the 15-25% selected to receive money. Roseman’s aquisition, he feels, “indicates that Williams faculty are comparable [to] scientists at other [research] institutions.” For Roseman, Lynch says that “getting an award is an indicator of her abilities as a researcher” as well as those of a “superb” teacher.

Roseman has employed 12 to 15 honor students for her research since she began teaching at Williams in 1991. She sees the students as “figures in her papers” and tries to “piece their projects together” in her various publications, which have appeared in journals such as The American Society of Virology, The Proceedings of the National Academy of the Sciences, Virology and The Journal of Biological Chemistry.

Her latest publication in The Journal of Biological Chemistry is co-authored by honor students Erica Mayer ‘96 and Adrian Rossi ‘96. Her newest paper on the dUTPase enzyme will appear in the journal Virology andfeatures the work of three students who have since graduated and . “A fair number of my honor students will end up with their names on publications,” she maintains.

After graduating from Smith College, Roseman received her Ph.D. in microbiology from Oregon State University where she studied the dUTPase enzyme and its relevance to DNA metabolism. This semester Roseman is teaching Immunology, a course she has taught every year she has been at Williams. She plans to take a full-year sabbatical in the future and says she will most likely stay near campus due to the particular lab conditions she has constructed here.