Joe Lutkenhaus

University of Kansas

Election Year: 2014
Primary Section: 44, Microbial Biology
Secondary Section: 21, Biochemistry
Membership Type: Member


Joe Lutkenhaus is a University Distinguished Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Molecular Genetics and Immunology at the University of Kansas Medical Center. Lutkenhaus is a microbiologist recognized for his work on the mechanism of bacterial cell division. He is particularly known for his characterization of FtsZ and the discovery of the Z ring, which led to the realization that bacteria contain cytoskeletal elements, which are the forerunners of the eukaryotic cytoskeleton. Lutkenhaus was born in Festina, Iowa in 1947 and graduated from Iowa State University with a degree in Chemistry and from UCLA in 1974 with a degree in Biochemistry. He was a postdoctoral fellow in microbial cell biology at Edinburgh University and joined the faculty of the University of Kansas Medical Center in 1981. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. In 2012 he was a co-recipient of the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University for his contributions to our understanding of the three dimensional organization of bacterial cells. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2014

Research Interests

My work focuses on the process of bacterial cell division. Bacteria are the smallest living organisms but must carry out many of the spatially and temporally complex tasks of larger eukaryotic cells to divide and produce progeny cells. Most, if not all cells, divide by assembly of a cytoskeletal element, which is spatially and temporally regulated, at the future division site that functions as a scaffold for assembly of the division machinery. Our work demonstrates that bacteria use FtsZ, which assembles into a cytoskeletal element designated the Z ring. Furthermore, FtsZ is widely conserved in the prokaryotic world indicating it arose early in evolution. Importantly FtsZ is the ancestral homologue of eukaryotic tubulin, establishing that the eukaryotic cytoskeleton had its origins in bacteria. In the bacterium E. coli, assembly of the Z ring is a key regulatory point for temporal and spatial regulation of division. Our work has demonstrated that this occurs largely through negative regulation and has contributed to the mechanisms utilized by these regulators. Our current work continues to examine the assembly of the Z ring and the process of its maturation into a large molecular machine that can divide the cell.

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