Picture of Karen M. Wassarman

Karen M. Wassarman

Professor of Bacteriology

Address: 1550 Linden Drive, Room 5550
Phone: (608) 262-8106
Lab Phone: (608) 265-2024
Email: wassarman@bact.wisc.edu
Overview · Lab · Publications

Start and Promotion Dates

  • Assistant Professor: 2001
  • Associate Professor: 2008
  • Full Professor: 2014


B.A., Chemistry and Biology, Williams College 1985
Ph.D., Molecular Biophysics & Biochemistry, Yale University 1992
Postdoctoral Research: University of California at San Francisco; National Institutes of Health

Research Overview

All organisms contain small RNAs that participate in diverse cellular activities including RNA processing, mRNA stability, translation, protein stability and secretion. These RNAs are defined by their size (< 350 nucleotides in length) and by the fact that they function as an RNA moiety that is not translated into protein. The research in my laboratory focuses on small RNAs in bacteria using molecular, biochemical and genetic approaches to investigate the function and mechanism of action of these RNAs. For example, the 6S RNA is a highly stable and abundant small RNA that associates with and regulates RNA polymerase. Cells with altered levels of 6S RNA show decreased ability to survive stationary phase. Further investigation of 6S RNA action and the genes it regulates has lead to a better understanding of a novel mechanism to control gene expression. In addition, understanding 6S RNA function may provide insights into how cells are able to survive extended nutrient starvation.

There are many new small RNAs in E. coli discovered by genomic and molecular approaches. My laboratory continues to study a number of novel small RNAs to elucidate their roles in the cell. Binding of a common protein (Hfq) has provided hints that some of these small RNAs may regulate translation of target mRNAs under specialized environmental growth conditions. The details of when and how these RNAs act remains to be worked out. In addition, a number of tantalizingly unique small RNAs are present. I anticipate the discovery of numerous additional small RNAs and the revelation of many of their functions will lead to a more complete understanding of the roles small RNAs play in all cells.


  • Microbiology 726: Regulation of Gene Expression in Prokaryotes
  • Microbiology 470: Microbial Genetics & Molecular Machines