Beth Ann Sullivan


James B. Duke Distinguished Professor

Research in the Sullivan Lab is focused on chromosome organization, with a specific emphasis on the genomics and epigenetics of the chromosomal locus called the centromere. The centromere is a specialized chromosomal site involved in chromosome architecture and movement, and when defective, is linked to cancer, birth defects, and infertility. The lab has described a unique type of chromatin (CEN chromatin) that forms exclusively at the centromere by replacement of core histone H3 by the centromeric histone variant CENP-A. Their studies also explore the composition of CEN chromatin and its relationship to the underlying highly repetitive alpha satellite DNA at the centromere. The Sullivan lab also discovered that genomic variation within alpha satellite DNA affects where the centromere is built and how well it functions. The Sullivan lab was part of the Telomere-to-Telomere T2T Consortium that used ultra long read sequencing and optical mapping to completely assemble each human chromosome, including through millions of basepairs of alpha satellite DNA at each centromere. Dr. Sullivan's group also builds human artificial chromosomes (HACs), using them as tools to test components required for a viable, transmissible chromosome and to study centromeric transcription and chromosome stability. The lab also studies formation and fate of chromosome abnormalities associated with birth defects, reproductive abnormalities, and cancer. Specifically, they study chromosomal abnormalities with two centromeres, called dicentric chromosomes. Originally described by Nobelist Barbara McClintock in the 1930s, dicentrics in most organisms are considered inherently unstable chromosomes because they trigger genome instability. However, dicentric chromosomes in humans are very stable and are often transmitted through multiple generations of a family. Using several approaches to experimentally reproduce dicentric chromosomes in human cells, the lab explores mechanisms of dicentric formation and their long-term fate.

Appointments and Affiliations

  • James B. Duke Distinguished Professor
  • Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology
  • Associate Dean of Research Training
  • Professor of Cell Biology
  • Member of the Duke Cancer Institute
  • Associate of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society

Contact Information

  • Office Location: 213 Research Drive DUMC 3054, 361 CARL, Durham, NC 27710
  • Office Phone: (919) 684-9038
  • Email Address:
  • Websites:


  • Ph.D. University of Maryland, Baltimore, 1995

Awards, Honors, and Distinctions

  • Gordon G. Hammes Faculty Teaching Award. Duke School of Medicine. 2021
  • Fellow. American Association for the Advancement of Science. 2015
  • Basil O'Connor Scholar. March of Dimes. 2003

Courses Taught

  • BIOTRAIN 701: Foundations of Professionalism for Biomedical Scientists
  • BIOTRAIN 720: Grant Writing for Biomedical Scientists
  • BIOTRAIN 730: Data Visualization for Biomedical Sciences
  • BIOTRAIN 750: Introduction to Responsible Conduct of Research Concepts
  • MGM 293: Research Independent Study I
  • MGM 593: Research Independent Study

In the News

Representative Publications

  • Stimpson, KM; Sullivan, BA, Centromeres poised en pointe: CDKs put a hold on CENP-A assembly., Dev Cell, vol 22 no. 1 (2012), pp. 1-2 [10.1016/j.devcel.2011.12.013] [abs].
  • Sullivan, LL; Boivin, CD; Mravinac, B; Song, IY; Sullivan, BA, Genomic size of CENP-A domain is proportional to total alpha satellite array size at human centromeres and expands in cancer cells., Chromosome Research : an International Journal on the Molecular, Supramolecular and Evolutionary Aspects of Chromosome Biology, vol 19 no. 4 (2011), pp. 457-470 [10.1007/s10577-011-9208-5] [abs].
  • Stimpson, KM; Sullivan, BA, Epigenomics of centromere assembly and function., Curr Opin Cell Biol, vol 22 no. 6 (2010), pp. 772-780 [10.1016/] [abs].
  • Stimpson, KM; Song, IY; Jauch, A; Holtgreve-Grez, H; Hayden, KE; Bridger, JM; Sullivan, BA, Telomere disruption results in non-random formation of de novo dicentric chromosomes involving acrocentric human chromosomes., Plos Genet, vol 6 no. 8 (2010) [10.1371/journal.pgen.1001061] [abs].
  • Mravinac, B; Sullivan, LL; Reeves, JW; Yan, CM; Kopf, KS; Farr, CJ; Schueler, MG; Sullivan, BA, Histone modifications within the human X centromere region., Plos One, vol 4 no. 8 (2009) [10.1371/journal.pone.0006602] [abs].
  • Lam, AL; Boivin, CD; Bonney, CF; Rudd, MK; Sullivan, BA, Human centromeric chromatin is a dynamic chromosomal domain that can spread over noncentromeric DNA., Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol 103 no. 11 (2006), pp. 4186-4191 [10.1073/pnas.0507947103] [abs].
  • Sullivan, BA; Karpen, GH, Centromeric chromatin exhibits a histone modification pattern that is distinct from both euchromatin and heterochromatin., Nature Structural & Molecular Biology, vol 11 no. 11 (2004), pp. 1076-1083 [10.1038/nsmb845] [abs].
  • Sullivan, BA; Willard, HF, Stable dicentric X chromosomes with two functional centromeres., Nature Genetics, vol 20 no. 3 (1998), pp. 227-228 [10.1038/3024] [abs].