Joseph E. Peters
Assistant Professor

Molecular mechanisms of genome stability and evolution; transposons that target DNA replication and DNA repair
Joseph E. Peters


Fax: 607-255-3904


Department of Microbiology
175A Wing Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-2703


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Joe Peters is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a Minor in Marine Environmental Science from the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1991. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland at College Park in the Department of Microbiology in 1996. Dr. Peters worked as a post-doctoral fellow with Dr. Nancy Craig in the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the Department of Molecular Biology and Genetics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Work in the lab is funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Research Description

Chromosome Integrity: Transposition and DNA replication. One of our areas of interest involves dissecting processes and protein/DNA interactions relevant to chromosome integrity. In this regard we are interested in the molecular mechanism that allows a discrete DNA element which can move within bacteria, called transposon Tn7, to recognize target sites associated with DNA replication. In addition to gaining insight into the regulation of a DNA recombination machine, this work with Tn7 will also advance our understanding of DNA replication and DNA repair. Interestingly, the ability of Tn7 to direct transposition into replicating DNA appears to allow it to recognize plasmids capable of moving between bacteria called conjugal plasmids. The ability of Tn7 to preferentially insert into plasmids capable of moving between cells would facilitate its dissemination between bacterial populations. Because Tn7 also encodes resistance to a number of antibiotics this work reveals a mechanism that could help account for the spread of drug resistance in bacteria.

Functional Genomics. A second area of interest concerns functional genomics. While knowing the whole DNA sequence of an organism's genome provides an exciting tool for understanding a living organism, raw DNA sequences tend to bring up more questions than they answer. Even in the best-studied organisms a large number of genes have no known function. Techniques in functional genomics strive to establish the function of large sets of genes that lack any ascribed function. Transposons are an important tool in many experiments in functional genomics in that they can functionally ·knock out· a genes activity and then easily be mapped individually using PCR or across an entire population using DNA arrays. We are engineering new transposon tools to address some of the limitations of natural transposons; natural transposons tend to move at low frequencies or be biased to specific sequences or regions of the chromosome.

Selected Publications

  • Q Shi, AR Parks, BD Potter, IJ Safir, Y Luo, BM Forster, and JE Peters (2008) DNA damage differentially activates regional chromosomal loci for Tn7 transposition in E. coli. Genetics 179:1237-1250

  • C Bordi, B. Butcher, Q Shi, AB Hachmann, JE Peters, and JD Helmann (2008) In vitro mutagenesis of Bacillus subtilis using a modified Tn7 with an outward facing inducible promoter. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 74:3419-3425

  • JA Finn, AR Parks, and JE Peters (2007) Transposon Tn7 directs transposition into the genome of filamentous bacteriophage M13 using the element-encoded TnsE protein. Journal of Bacteriology 189:9122-9125

  • JA Finn, AR Parks, and JE Peters (2007) Transposon Tn7 directs transposition into the genome of filamentous bacteriophage M13 using the element-encoded TnsE protein. Journal of Bacteriology Published online ahead of print
  • AR Parks and JE Peters (2007) Transposon Tn7 is widespread in diverse bacteria and forms genomic islands. Journal of Bacteriology 189:2170-2173
  • LM Junker, JE Peters, and AG Hay (2006) Global analysis of candidate genes important for fitness in a competitive biofilm using DNA-array-based transposon mapping. Microbiology 152:2233-45
  • DA Garsin, J Urbach, JC Huguet-Tapia, JE Peters, and FM Ausubel (2004) Construction of an Enterococcus faecalis Tn917-mediated gene disruption library offers insight into Tn917 insertion patterns. Journal of Bacteriology 186:7280-7272
  • JE Peters, TE Thate, and NL Craig (2003) Definition of the Escherichia coli MC4100 genome by use of a DNA array. Journal of Bacteriology 185:2017-2021
  • JE Peters and NL Craig (2001) Tn7: smarter than we thought. Nature Reviews: Molecular Cell Biology 2:806-814
  • JE Peters and NL Craig (2001) Tn7 recognizes transposition target structures associated with DNA replication using the DNA-binding protein TnsE. Genes and Development 15:737-747
  • JE Peters and NL Craig (2000) Tn7 transposes proximal to DNA double-strand breaks and into regions where chromosomal DNA replication terminates. Molecular Cell 6:573-582