Skip to main content

Susan M. Rosenberg

Professor, Department of Molecular and Human Genetics
Baylor College of Medicine
One Baylor Plaza, MS BCM225
Houston, TX  77030

(713) 798-6924

Biographical Information

  • B.A., State University of New York at Potsdam, 1980
  • M.S., University of Oregon, 1981
  • Ph.D., University of Oregon, 1986
  • Postdoc, University of Paris VII, 1987
  • Postdoc, University of Utah, 1988
  • Postdoc, National Cancer Institute at Frederick, 1990


Genome Instability in Evolution, Antibiotic Resistance, and Cancer

Stress-Induced Mutagenesis: For 50 years the world believed that mutations occur at random. The discovery of stress-induced mutagenesis has changed ideas about mutation and evolution and revealed mutagenic programs that differ from standard spontaneous mutagenesis in rapidly proliferating cells. The stress-induced mutations occur during growth-limiting stress, and can include adaptive mutations that allow growth in the otherwise growth-limiting environment. We are elucidating molecular mechanisms by which these mutations form in E. coli using a variety of genetic, molecular, genomic, and whole-genome-sequencing approaches. We discovered that the normally high-fidelity mechanism of DNA double-strand-break repair is switched to a mutagenic version of that mechanism, using a special error-prone DNA polymerase, specifically when cells are stressed, under the control of two cellular stress responses. The stress responses increase mutagenesis specifically when cells are maladapted to their environments, i.e. are stressed, potentially accelerating evolution then. Stress-induced mutation mechanisms may provide important models for genome instability underlying some cancers and genetic diseases, resistance to chemotherapeutic and antibiotic drugs, pathogenicity of microbes, and many other important evolutionary processes. We are interested in molecular mechanisms that drive evolution.

Antibiotic-Resistance Mutation: Some mutations that confer antibiotic-resistance form by a mechanism with similarities to recombination-dependent stress-induced mutagenesis described above. We are examining the mechanism by which these mutations form.

Spontaneous DNA Damage: We created E. coli cells that fluoresce green when their DNA is damaged, and are using flow cytometry to quantify and recover green cells with spontaneous DNA damage. With this direct, sensitive technology we are identifying the amounts, kinds, and sources of spontaneous DNA damage in single living cells. Spontaneous DNA damage is thought to be the main culprit underlying genetic and genomic instability in all living cells. We discovered that spontaneous DNA double-strand breaks are rarer and more dangerous to genomes than predicted, and that bacteria with DNA damage undergo a senescence-like state, analogous to that in human cells.

From Bacteria to Humans: Genomic-Caretaker Proteins and Cancer. Genomic instability including mutagenesis and chromosome rearrangement is a hallmark of cancer, yet the genomic caretaker proteins that prevent and sometimes cause instability are highly conserved and similar in all organisms. E. coli RecQ is a close relative of five human proteins, mutations in at least three of which cause genome instability underlying cancer-predisposition syndromes: Bloom, Werner, and Rothmund-Thompson. One of the human, the yeast and fly RecQ homologues, appear to play one specific role in genetic recombination in cells. Surprisingly, we found that E. coli RecQ plays the opposite role, and thus exemplifies a second paradigm for the in vivo function of RecQ-family proteins. We are investigating whether any of the human homologues function via the E. coli RecQ paradigm, and the molecular basis of RecQ action in vivo as a model for human oncogenesis. We are pursuing other promising bacterial homologues of human cancer proteins to learn their mechanisms of action first in the simpler, more tractable bacterial system to provide mechanisms and models for the molecular bases of cancer.

Selected Publications

  1. Al Mamun AA, Lombardo M-J, Shee C, Lisewski AM, Gonzalez C, Lin D, Nehring RB, Saint-Ruf C, Gibson JL, Frisch RL, Lichtarge O, Hastings PJ, Rosenberg SM (2012). Identity and function of a large gene network underlying mutagenic repair of DNA breaks. Science 338(6112): 1344-8. PubMed PMID: 23224554
  2. Shee C, Gibson JL, Rosenberg SM (2012). Two mechanisms produce mutation hotspots at DNA breatks in Escherichia coli. Cell Rep. 2(4): 714-21. PubMed PMID: 23041320
  3. Shee C, Gibson JL, Darrow MC, Gonzalez C, Rosenberg SM (2011). Impact of a stress-inducible switch to mutagenic repair of DNA breaks on mutation in Escherichia coli. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U S A 108(33): 13659-64. PubMed PMID: 21808005
  4. Frisch RL, Rosenberg SM (2011). Antibiotic resistance, not shaken or stirred. Science 333(6050): 1713-1714. PubMed PMID: 21940884
  5. Pennington JM, Rosenberg SM (2007). Spontaneous DNA breakage in single living Escherichia coli cells. Nat. Genet. 39(6): 797-802. PubMed PMID: 17529976
  6. Magner DB, Blankschien MD, Lee JA, Pennington JM, Lupski JR, Rosenberg SM (2007). RecQ promotes toxic recombination in cells lacking recombination intermediate-removal proteins. Mol. Cell. 26(2): 273-86. PubMed PMID: 17466628
  7. Ponder RG, Fonville NC, Rosenberg SM (2005). A switch from high-fidelity to error-prone DNA double-strand break repair underlies stress-induced mutation. Mol. Cell 19(6): 791-804. PubMed PMID: 16168374
  8. Hastings PJ, Slack A, Petrosino JF, Rosenberg SM (2004). Adaptive amplification and point mutation are independent mechanisms: evidence for various stress-inducible mutation mechanisms. PLoS Biol. 2(12): e399. PubMed PMID: 15550983
  9. Rosenberg SM, Hastings PJ (2004). Genomes: Worming into genetic instability. Nature 430(7000): 625-6. PubMed PMID: 15295584
  10. Rosenberg SM (2001). Evolving responsively: Adaptive mutation. Nat. Rev. Genet. 2(7): 504-15. PubMed PMID: 11433357
  11. Hastings PJ, Bull HJ, Klump JR, Rosenberg SM (2000). Adaptive amplification: An inducible chromosomal instability mechanism. Cell 103(5): 723-31. PubMed PMID: 11114329
  12. Motamedi MR, Szigeti SK, Rosenberg SM (1999). Double-strand-break repair recombination in Escherichia coli: physical evidence for a DNA replication mechanism in vivo. Genes Dev. 13(21): 2889-903. PubMed PMID: 10557215
  13. Torkelson J, Harris RS, Lombardo MJ, Nagendran J, Thulin C, Rosenberg SM (1997). Genome-wide hypermutation in a subpopulation of stationary-phase cells underlies recombination-dependent adaptive mutation. EMBO J. 16(11): 3303-11. PubMed PMID: 9214645
  14. Harris RS, Longerich S, Rosenberg SM (1994). Recombination in adaptive mutation. Science 264(5156): 258-60. PubMed PMID: 8146657