Don B. Clewell
Microbiologist Don B. Clewell is respected internationally for
his landmark research, including the discovery of genetic elements
involved in the intercellular movement of genes in bacteria. Multiple
antibiotic resistance has, over the years, become a major clinical
concern. His studies have enhanced our understanding of the basic
biology of plasmids and provided important insights into how antibiotic
resistance emerges and spreads.
Through his work on the mechanisms of bacterial conjugation (DNA
transfer between bacteria), Clewell and his research team discovered
conjugative transposons, a new and highly promiscuous class of mobile
genetic elements that integrate into their host’s genome.
His group also discovered bacterial sex pheromones that act as mating
signals between bacteria. Early in his career, Clewell did pioneering
work on an E. coli plasmid, demonstrating how it replicates in the
bacterial cell. The resulting papers describing the purification
of plasmids from bacteria are frequently cited and serve as the
basis for some of the most commonly used methods in modern molecular
biology laboratories around the world.
Clewell, who has held joint faculty appointments in the School of
Dentistry and the Medical School since 1970, is an invaluable resource
for faculty and students across campus. In addition to teaching
microbiology to medical, dental and nursing students, he has educated
policy-makers and the public regarding the dangers of bacterial
resistance. Many of Clewell’s former students hold faculty
positions at academic institutions throughout the world.
Clewell has a long history of distinguished service to the University
and to various national and international organizations and societies,
including serving on the editorial boards of leading journals in
his field. He has edited two important books on plasmid biology,
“Bacterial Conjugation” (Plenum Press 1993) and “Plasmids
in Bacteria” (Plenum Press 1985), and is frequently invited
to give guest lectures.
A national leader in the field, Clewell has been a member of the
Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee at the National Institutes of
Health (NIH) and has served on various NIH review panels.