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Dr. Nilgun Tumer

Distinguished Professor
Dr. Nilgun Tumer.

Dr. Nilgun Tumer
Department of Plant Biology
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
59 Dudley Road, Foran Hall, Room 204D
New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8520


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Dr. Nilgun Tumer has obtained her Ph.D. in biochemistry from Purdue University and trained with Dr. Robert Haselkorn at the University of Chicago. She has led a group working on virus resistance at Monsanto Company for 8 years. The major focus of her laboratory is to understand the basic mechanism of toxicity of ribosome inactivating proteins (RIPs), such as ricin and Shiga toxins (Stxs) and trichothecene mycotoxins.

Ricin is used in targeted killing of cancer cells and as an agent of bioterrorism. The related Shiga toxins (Stxs) produced by Shigella and E. coli O157:H7 (STEC) cause food-borne outbreaks and are major concerns for public health. Currently, there are no vaccines or therapeutics to protect against ricin or Stx producing E.coli. Dr. Tumer's lab pioneered yeast as a powerful model to study the mode of action of RIPs. Her research played a central role in defining the cellular targets of RIPs and trichothecene mycotoxins and identified the host target of pokeweed antiviral protein as ribosomal protein L3 and the host target of ricin and Shiga toxins as the P-proteins of the ribosomal stalk. Their studies established a new paradigm for the mechanism of depurination of the sarcin/ricin loop and identified toxin/ribosome interactions as a new target for inhibitor discovery. They have set up fragment-based lead discovery (FBLD) using surface plasmon resonance (SPR) to discover inhibitors of ricin and Stxs. Their innovative approaches have culminated in peptides and fragments that bind to the toxins and show dose-dependent inhibition of activity.

Dr. Tumer also studies the mode of action of trichothecene mycotoxins produced by Fusarium graminearum, which causes Fusarium head blight (FHB), a devastating disease affecting cereal crops. There is no effective resistance to FHB in cereals. Using chemical genomics approaches they identified mitochondria as a target of trichothecene mycotoxins and showed that trichothecene-induced mitochondrial oxidative stress plays a major role in trichothecene toxicity. They screened activation tagged Arabidopsis lines for resistance to trichothecenes and identified a novel lipid transfer protein (LTP) that confers resistance to trichothecenes in plants.

Dr. Tumer has published over 100 papers and has 15 issued patents. She has been a Distinguished Professor of Plant Biology and Pathology since 2014. She directs the Core Facility at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences (SEBS), which provides a wide array of services to Rutgers community and serves as the chair of the Gene discovery and Engineering Resistance (GDER) Program of the US Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative (USWBSI) since 2014.

Title and Address

Distinguished Professor
Department of Plant Biology
Director, SEBS Core Facility
Primary Focus Area: Toxin/ribosome interactions, toxin resistance
Secondary Focus Area: Virus resistance