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DNA Repair & Mitochondrial Damage Group

Responding to Genotoxic Stress

Bennett Van Houten, Ph.D.
Bennett Van Houten, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator

Tel (919) 541-2799
Fax (919) 541-7593

P.O. Box 12233
Mail Drop EC-28
Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709
Delivery Instructions

Research Summary

The DNA Repair and Mitochondrial Damage Group is interested in understanding the formation, repair and consequences of DNA damage in both nuclear and mitochondrial genomes. Faulty DNA repair can promote mutations, cancer and cell death.

Image for understanding how repair proteins find and process DNA damage

The group is currently focusing on four major areas of research. One main project is to understand the structures and functions of proteins that mediate bacterial nucleotide excision repair, using x-ray crystallography, NMR, single-molecule fluorescence, atomic force microscopy coupled with site-directed mutagenesis and biochemical assays. Another project investigates DNA repair and stress responses in the model organism, C. elegans. A third project involves investigation of global gene expression profiling in response to environmental stressors in eukaryotes ranging from yeast to humans. Mitochondrial DNA is much more sensitive to oxidative stress than nuclear DNA and the final project is focused at damage and repair mechanisms in mitochondrial DNA.

Major areas of research:

Current projects:

  • Studies of the structures and functions of the thermophilic bacteria Bacillus caldotenax and Thermotoga maritima
  • Investigation in C. elegans of the formation and removal of DNA lesions in the mitochondrial and nuclear genomes as functions of the genetic background and exposures to environmental stressors, including genotoxins
  • Studies of the sensitivity of C. elegans to UV radiation at various life stages and its capacity to repair this damage, and the hypothesis that frataxin deficiency sensitizes mitochondrial DNA to exposure to iron and other pro-oxidant chemicals
  • Determination of the cellular impact of mitochondrial iron overload in a yeast model of the human disease Friedreich's Ataxia
  • Studying the consequences and how DNA double strand breaks are repaired in mitochondria.
  • The role of mitochondrial-generated reactive oxygen in hyperoxia-induced cell injury



Outside NIEHS

  • Susan Cline, Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor of Biochemistry
    Mercer University School of Medicine

  • Dorothy A. Erie, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor, Biological Chemistry
    University of North Carolina

  • Kenneth H Fischbeck, M.D.
    Senior Investigator, Neurogenetics Branch

  • Nicholas Geacintov, Ph.D.
    Chair, Department of Chemistry
    New York University

  • Hiroshi Ide
    Professor, Department of Mathematical and Life Science, Graduate School of Science
    Hiroshima University

  • Caroline Kisker, Ph.D.
    Professor, Rudolf Virchow Center for Experimental Biomedicine, Institute for Structural Biology
    University of Wuerzburg

  • Peter J. McHugh, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor, Cancer Research, UK Laboratories, Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine
    University of Oxford

  • Laura Niedernhofer, M.D., Ph.D.
    Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry
    University of Pittsburgh

  • Karen Vasquez, Ph.D.
    Associate Professor, MD Anderson Cancer Center
    Smithville, Texas

  • Christi A. Walter, Ph.D.
    Professor & Interim Chair, Department of Cellular & Structural Biology
    University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio

  • David Warshaw, Ph.D.
    Chair, Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics
    University of Vermont

Bennett Van Houten, Ph.D., heads the DNA Repair and Mitochondrial Damage Group within the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee at the Oak Ridge Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 1984. He completed postdoctoral training in the Department of Biochemistry and the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1988. Van Houten's first faculty position was in the Department of Pathology at the University of Vermont. He moved to the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), Galveston, Texas in 1994 to become a Senior Scientist at the Sealy Center for Molecular Science and an Associate Professor in biochemistry, rising to the rank of full Professor in 1998.

Van Houten joined NIEHS in April of 1999 and took a dual appointment as Chief, Program Analysis Branch in the Division of Extramural Research and Training (DERT) and Investigator in the Laboratory of Molecular Genetics in the Division of Intramural Research at NIEHS. As Chief of the Program Analysis Branch, Van Houten helps to track and communicate the scientific and public health impact of research supported by DERT. He has authored over 110 scientific articles, as well as 17 book chapters and reviews. He currently serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Mutation Research, DNA Repair and Mitochondrion. He has been the chair of the 2005 Gordon Research Conference on Genetic Toxicology and co-chair of the 2007 Gordon Research Conference on Oxidative Stress and Disease. Since joining the NIEHS, Van Houten has been recognized with five NIH Merit Awards and an NIH Director’s Award.

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Last Reviewed: August 21, 2007