Oak Ridge National Laboratory


News Release

Media Contact: Marty Goolsby ()
Communications and External Relations


Bunick receives NIH grant to study nucleosomes

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Jan. 4, 1996 — Gerry Bunick, a biologist at the Department of Energy's (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), has received a four-year grant to study the structure of nucleosomes. The $600,000 grant, awarded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), marks the 14th year of NIH support for Bunick's work.

Nucleosomes are the fundamental building blocks of chromosomes. While many scientists are primarily concerned with the entire complement of chromosomes packed into a cell's nucleus, Bunick's specialty is studying the tiny protein core of the nucleosome and the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) that spirals around it.

Using a technique called "crystallography," Bunick grows crystals of nucleosomes that look much like miniature versions of those worn as jewelry. By analyzing the diffraction of X-rays by the crystals, he gets a very detailed picture of the nucleosome's protein core and the DNA surrounding it. Careful selection of the DNA base sequence in the nucleosomes allows Bunick to grow highly ordered crystals, thus arriving at a better quality picture of the atoms within them.

Understanding the atomic structure of nucleosomes is an important key to unlocking the mystery of genetic function in the real world outside the laboratory. Researchers must first understand what these macromolecular structures really look like before they can determine how they function and relate that to human diseases caused by such factors as environmental pollutants. Not only are Bunick's crystallography techniques used in biological research, but they are also sought by pharmaceutical companies when designing new and better drugs.

Bunick's expertise in nucleosomal research coupled with his extensive contacts in the scientific community have led to ground-breaking work with NASA. Most recently he has partnered with NASA to incubate nucleosomes in a zero-gravity environment on the agency's space shuttles. Studying crystals grown in space is preferable to those grown on earth because the structural quality of the crystals is better without the distorting effects of gravity. Although Bunick had crystallography experiments on the space shuttle in November, his big project is slated for next March when the American shuttle docks with the Russian space station Mir.

Bunick earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in 1969 and his doctorate in biological chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania in 1975. He joined ORNL in the Chemistry Division in 1977 and worked in the Solid State Division between 1982 and 1990. Bunick is a member of numerous professional societies and is a past president of the small angle scattering special interest group of the American Crystallographic Association. A native of Boston, Bunick now lives in Oak Ridge with his wife Elaine, son Christopher and daughter Elissa.

ORNL, one of DOE's multiprogram national research and development facilities, is managed by Lockheed Martin Energy Research Corp.