Ellen L. Neidle

Creative Research Medal 2005

Ellen L. Neidle explores how bacteria adapt to environmental changes by reversibly altering the amount of their genetic material. This process, known as gene amplification, occurs in all organisms and has implications for understanding cancer, bacterial antibiotic resistance and evolution. Dr. Neidle developed a new experimental approach to study gene amplification by taking advantage of unusual features of the soil-inhabiting bacterium Acinetobacter (ADP1). By exploiting these features, she was able to analyze naturally occurring DNA rearrangements in greater detail than has previously been possible. Dr. Neidle’s studies reveal novel genetic events with significant consequences and center on the capacity of bacteria to acquire new abilities to consume chemical compounds, such as pollutants. Therefore, her work also impacts environmental cleanup efforts.

Dr. Neidle has been praised for the clarity, scale, precision and completeness of her experimental evidence by such luminaries as E. Peter Geiduschek, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a biological sciences professor at the University of California, San Diego. Additionally, Dr. Neidle uses ADP1 as a model system for teaching undergraduates. She mentored 38 undergraduate researchers, in addition to her graduate students, and initiated an NSF-funded program for undergraduate research experiences. Dr.Neidle was awarded one of 19 inaugural Lawton Chiles Fellowships in Biotechnology by the NIH.