Spencer A. Benson
Ph.D. - University of Chicago, 1978
Research Interests: Bacterial Evolution and the Biology of Traditional Herbal Medicines
My laboratory group is currently engaged in several areas of research, which uses bacteria as model systems to look at important biological problems. The areas of research are:
- Bacterial adaptation and evolution during long extended non-lethal selections for enhanced characteristics, and
- Analyses of the biological activities present in traditional Chinese herbal medicines.
Much of our understanding about the biology of gene regulation, physiology, adaptation, and evolution comes from bacterial systems. Most studies involve rapidly growing cells. However in nature this is the exception rather than the rule. Cells repeatedly experience situations where they do not divide or divide infrequently due to resource limitations. We seek to understand how cells adapt and evolve during such periods. Paradoxically, this state seems to help direct mutational events to adaptively beneficial genes. This has been termed adaptive mutation and has raised a heated debate in the scientific community. Our goal is to study how cells genetically adapt to conditions of limited or no growth and to ascertain the molecular mechanism(s) used to evolve new or enhanced genetic constructs during such periods. Our current focus is to understand how the adaptive mutation response is regulated and identify the genes that are involved in it regulation.
Traditional herbal medicine is practiced through out the world by millions of people and has a history that predates the written word. Herbal medicines are increasingly being used by modern western societies as nuturaceuticals. We are currently studying a root-extract from Arnebia euchroma, which traditionally is used as wound healing agent. The extract and the individual compounds present in the extract have a number of interesting biological activities that include; antibacterial, antifungal, antiinflamatory, antithrombic, and anticancer activity. We have shown that combinations of individual agents act synergistically to enhance the antimicrobial activity. Our current research focus is to develop this system as a model system for the characterization of synergistic interactions that are the foundations of most herbal medicines. An important outcome of the work will be to test if the premise that combinations of herbal ingredients have greater efficacy in the treatment of chronic conditions.
- Interdisciplinary courses, Active learning in large lecture classes,
- Investigative laboratories, Science courses for non majors
The current and on going information explosions in biology and the use of technology to deliver educational materials are reshaping education, and how students and teachers learn. I have been developing ways to actively incorporating new learning technologies in to the classes that I teach. In these classes I stress the learning of intellectual skills, e.g., note taking, critical reading and writing, ability to locate and summarize relevant literature, oral presentation, etc. more than the cataloging of facts. My goal is to teach students how to effectively learn, use technology, and be proficient life-long learners.
- S. A. Benson, B. P. Higgins, C. S. Chae, and Y. Lin. 2001. Antibacterial synergy in rubricine: an extract from the roots of Arnebia euchroma a Chinese medicinal herb. In the proceeding of the August 2000 International Conference on The Globalization of Traditional Chinese Medicines. Klumer Academic, US
- S. A. Benson. 1997. Adaptive mutation: a general phenomena or special case. BioEssays 19:9-11.
- Lou, K. L., N. Sainte, A. Prilipov, G. Rummel, S.A. Benson, J. P. Rosenbush and T. Scherer. 1996. Structural and functional characterization of OmpF porin mutants selected for larger pore size: I. Crystallographic analysis. J. Biol. Chem. 271: 20669-20675.
- Peters, J. E., I. M. Bartoszyk, S. Dheer and S. A. Benson. 1996. Redundant homosexual F transfer facilities selection induced reversion of plasmid mutations. J. Bacteriol. 178: 3037-3043.
- Peters, J. E. and S. A. Benson. 1995. Characterization of a new rho mutation that relieves polarity of Mu insertions. Mol. Microbiol. 17: 231-240.
- Peters, J. E. and S. A. Benson. 1995. Redundant transfer of F' plasmids occurs between Escherichia coli cells during nonlethal selections. J. Bacteriol. 177: 847-850.
- Yuan, R. T. and S. A. Benson. 2000. Research and Team Work at the Frontiers of Learning in Involving Commuters Students in Learning B. Jacoby ed. Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA. pp. 51-59
- Benson S. A. 1999. Issues and Challenges in Undergraduate Biology Education, PKAL 10th Anniversary, http://www.pkal.org/10thann/essays.html
- Benson S. A. and R. T. Yuan. 1998. The University Classroom as a Virtual Workplace; in Essays on Quality Learning: Teacher's Reflections on Classroom Practice, University of Maryland
- Yuan, R. T. and S. A. Benson. 1998. Journey Without Maps; in Essays on Quality Learning: Teacher's Reflections on Classroom Practice, University of Maryland.
- Yuan, R. T. and S. A. Benson 1995. Modern microbiology for nonmajors: Teaching relevance. ASM News 61: 27-30.