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The Thrill of Scientific Discovery

Sir Richard Roberts, Nobel laureate and Distinguished University Professor at Northeastern, loves bacteria. As he puts it, “I find humans too complicated.” There is however, an important connection between humans and bacteria, he said: we couldn’t survive without them.

Roberts, a globally recognized leader in genomics and molecular biology, studies the mechanisms by which bacteria resist phages—viruses that target bacteria. Restriction enzymes, he says, are a key part of bacteria’s defense against infecting organisms.

But what holds Roberts’ particular interest these days are the biological effects of methylation, a mechanism cells use to control gene expression. According to Roberts, there is a lot more DNA methylation taking place in bacteria than we have good biological explanations for.

“I have a feeling that there is an important discovery to be made here, and I’m kind of hoping that I’m the one to make it,” Roberts said Wednesday afternoon in his keynote address at this year’s Advanced DNA Sequencing Technology Development Meeting of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Northeastern hosted the meeting, which was held this week in East Village and co-organized by Meni Wanunu, associate professor of physics and chemistry and chemical biology in the College of Science.

The institute’s annual meeting provides an open forum on key scientific and technical challenges to ultra-low-cost, high-quality DNA sequencing. The meeting draws leading researchers worldwide across many disciplines—from physics, chemistry, and biology to engineering and nanotechnology—to learn about the latest research on genome sequencing technologies, share knowledge, and pursue new collaborations.

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