A love affair with bacteria

May 26, 2005, vol. 33, no. 3
By Carol Thorbes

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A dean's medal is awarded to a top graduating student from each faculty, both undergraduate and graduate. The student is recommended by the faculty dean and must be among the top five per cent of graduating students.

“I am in love with bacteria,” says Suckjoon Jun, the 2005 recipient of the dean of graduate studies convocation medal in science at Simon Fraser University. “They are the simplest organisms, but they contain so many secrets about life, from evolution to aging,” says the Korean-born scientist.

Jun is a recent doctoral graduate of physics at SFU. For his thesis, he used theoretical physics to explain how cells in some organisms can replicate enormous amounts of genetic information - billions of bits - encoded in deoxyribose nucleic acid (DNA), within minutes. In collaboration with biologists at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, Jun used his theory to elucidate DNA replication dynamics in in-vitro replication experiments with xenopus cell embryos (a kind of frog).

Jun's groundbreaking thesis landed him a postdoctoral fellowship at Holland's Institute for Atomic and Molecular Physics where the world's top scientists fuse physics and biology to unravel how life works.

Building on his doctoral work, Jun is exploring why genetic material in bacteria seem to segregate and form cells like magic.

“In higher organisms, DNA seems to need machinery called proteins, which act like micro robots, to replicate and partition itself, and instigate cell division,” explains Jun. “But in bacteria, DNA appears to segregate without this machinery.”

Jun's recently won fellowship from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council is enabling him to pursue a missing link in this puzzle.

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