Dr. Manuel Varela
Eastern New Mexico University
Phone: (575) 562-2464
Dr. Manuel Varela, ENMU: Dr. Manuel Varela earned his Ph.D. in biomedical sciences in 1994 studying the molecular biology of the Escherichia coli tetracycline resistance antiporter under Dr. Jeffrey Griffith at the UNM Health Sciences Center, Albuquerque, NM. Dr. Varela subsequently undertook a 3-year postdoctoral training program to study the physiology of the E. coli lactose permease, LacY, under Dr. Thomas Wilson at Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA. Dr. Varela began his association with the NM-BRIN/INBRE program in 2001 as an assistant professor of biology at Eastern New Mexico University (ENMU). At the time, ENMU was lacking basic instrumentation, which was provided by the initial BRIN grant, allowing Dr. Varela to launch his research, studying the molecular physiology of bacterial sugar transporters, such as the melibiose permease MelY, from the bacterium Enterobacter cloacae, the sucrose transporter, CscB, from E. coli, and the raffinose transporter, RafB, from E. coli.
Dr. Varela’s initial success in conducting research at a primarily undergraduate teaching institution, therefore, arose directly from the support of the NM-BRIN program and led to his promotion to associate professor and tenure in 2003. Dr. Varela continued to participate in the program by studying drug resistance in bacterial pathogens from agricultural environments as well as the molecular biology of new antimicrobial efflux pump systems. Due to INBRE support, Dr. Varela’s research laboratory at ENMU discovered several novel multidrug efflux pump systems in clinically important bacteria such as methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Vibrio cholerae. Successes such as these led to promotion of Dr. Varela to full professor in 2008.
Since then, Dr. Varela has published over a dozen peer-reviewed papers, plus an invited article review and several book chapters; he has discovered the sugar-alcohol phosphotransferase system (PTS) from V. cholerae plus collaborated with the National Center for Genome Resources (NCGR) in Santa Fe, NM in an NM-INBRE-supported sequencing project to determine the complete genome sequence of a non-O1 V. cholerae bacterium, which was published in 2013. Dr. Varela actively includes students in his publishing efforts and to date, over 20 of Dr. Varela’s undergraduate and graduate students have published in peer-reviewed journals under his tutelage. Dr. Varela attributes his research productivity directly to the support provided by the NM-INBRE program. In 2012, Dr. Varela took on a leadership role in the NM-INBRE by becoming a member of the Steering Committee and serving as ENMU Institutional Liaison.
Dr. Karlett Parra
The University of New Mexico
Phone: (505) 272-1633
Karlett Parra was born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela. She is the first college graduate in her family and received her BS in Biology (1990) and MS in Biochemistry (1992) from the Universidad Simon Bolivar, Venezuela, and Ph.D. from the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY (1998). Her latest projects on the roles of V-ATPase for cancer progression, which are supported by NM-INBRE, have given Dr. Parra a new niche in the V-ATPase and Bioenergetics research communities. Dr. Parra was elected Chair for the 2015 (Vice Chair, 2013) Bioenergetics Gordon Research Conference (GRC), following open-floor nomination and democratic balloting at the 2011 Bioenergetics GRC meeting.
Dr. Parra has infectious enthusiasm that she brings to her students. This is in part captured by the impressive record of students and young scientists she has trained, and their research achievements. In her faculty career, Dr. Parra has so far mentored 54 students (6 high school, 43 undergraduate and 5 graduate students), 5 Postdocs, and 2 Assistant Research Professors. Dr. Parra’s trainees have received 15 competitive travel awards to present their findings at national meetings, 19 Research Achievement Awards, one Jack Kent Cooke Scholarship Award, three Goldwater Scholarship Awards, and numerous departmental awards. About 70% or more of her undergraduate students have pursued advanced degrees after they graduated. At UNM, about half of Dr. Parra’s research students have been Hispanic and Native American. Among her NM-INBRE trainees is the first Native American student (from the Navajo Nation) accepted into the UNM School of Medicine’s M.D./Ph.D. Program. Following nomination by her research students and postdoctoral fellows, the Project for New Mexico Graduates of Color recognized Dr. Parra’s research and mentoring efforts with two awards, the 2010 Faculty of Color Award for Research and the 2011 Faculty of Color Award for Mentoring by PNMGC.
Dr. Parra’s achievements and leadership in research and education embody our national goals for higher education to promote and encourage junior scientists’ development and retention in biomedical research careers. In July 2012, Dr. Parra was appointed Chair of the UNM Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the School of Medicine. Dr. Parra is the first female Hispanic Chair of a Basic Science Department in the UNM School of Medicine.
Dr. Shelley Lusetti
New Mexico State University
Phone: (575) 646-6016
Dr. Shelley Lusetti, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, New Mexico State University, was recently awarded an R01 grant, the most prestigious investigator initiated funding mechanism from the National Institutes of Health, titled "Repair of Damaged Chromosomes Mediated by the Bacterial RecN Protein." The repair of damaged chromosomes is critical to the genome maintenance of all organisms. The proposed studies will provide valuable models for understanding the molecular role that SMC proteins play in genome maintenance and DNA repair. SMC proteins have essential, albeit poorly understood functions in a variety of house-keeping DNA processes that can cause birth defects, cancer, and premature aging when defective.
The objectives of the project are to 1) characterize the biochemical properties of the RecN protein, a member of the Structural Maintenance of Chromosomes (SMC) family of proteins; 2) define the role of SMC-like proteins in the repair of DNA double-strand breaks; 3) investigate the conformational and functional effect of ATP nucleotide on SMC-like proteins.
Dr. Lusetti is a tenured Associate Professor. Her research focuses on the enzymology of recombinational DNA repair and the biochemical roles of novel enzymes involved in DNA damage response pathways. Further, her research seeks to expand the understanding of bacterial DNA damage response enzymes to combat the growing problem of acquired antibiotic resistance in pathogenic bacteria. She has published ten peer-reviewed research papers since her terminal degree was conferred, all in prestigious journals such as Journal of Biological Chemistry or Molecular Cell and her publications have been cited more than 750 times. Her research program has been supported by pilot grant funding from the NIH SCORE (SC2) mechanism as well as the New Mexico IDeA Networks of Biomedical Research Excellence (P20).
Dr. Lusetti’s career path resembles that of many undergraduate and graduate students at NMSU. She received her associates degree in mathematics from Sacramento City College and her bachelors degree in biology from the University of California- Santa Barbara. Her Ph.D. in Biochemistry was awarded by the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Dr. Lusetti’s education path was of a non-traditional re-entry, Pell grant-funded, first-generation college student. Her community college education was supported through the Extended Opportunity Program and Services (EOPS) for educationally and economically disadvantaged students funded by the State of California. After completing postdoctoral training at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she began her independent research career at New Mexico State University as an assistant professor in 2006 and was promoted to associate professor with tenure in 2012. Underrepresented minority student research participation is an important goal in the Lusetti laboratory at NMSU.
She was the Ph.D. thesis advisor for two URM students, both of whom recently defended their dissertations. One (Emigdio Reyes) was funded by an NRSA pre-doctoral fellowship, for which Dr. Lusetti served as sponsor. Dr. Reyes is currently a post-doctoral fellow in Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. She has served as the undergraduate research mentor of several MBRS RISE, MARC and BRIDGES-supported students, several of whom are currently in biomedical research graduate programs. Further, she serves as Co-PI for the NMSU RISE graduate student training grant.