Fight back against MRSA to be started with a sniff
Procarta Biosystems, headed by Dr. Michael McArthur, developed the novel type of antibiotic specifically to treat MRSA and is now working in collaboration with UEA’s Norwich Medical School to adapt this for use as a nasal spray.
MRSA infections after major surgery, such as knee or hip replacements, are particularly serious as the patient is weakened, making recovery from the infection more challenging than usual. When the infection surrounds the replaced joint the remedy can sometimes only be to repeat the operation and put in a new device, dramatically increasing costs.
Procarta has discovered how to turn off essential genes in bacteria thus preventing the growth of the pathogen and spread of the infection.
Poultry probiotic cuts its coat to beat bad bacteria
The probiotic is currently being taken forward through farm-scale trials to evaluate how well it combats Clostridium perfringens – a cause of necrotic enteritis in poultry and the second most common cause of food poisoning in the UK.
Research led by Dr. Arjan Narbad has found that the probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus johnsonsii have the ability to alter their coat. The researchers speculate that this could be one way in which the probiotic outcompete C. perfringens.
"The next step is to understand the regulation of the genes involved in making the coat" said Dr Narbad. "We want to find out whether changing the coat affects the probiotic’s fitness to colonise and inhabit the gut."
Full story: http://news.ifr.ac.uk/2013/03/poultry-probiotic/
Young scientists showcase their research
Presentations can be viewed on the FoJIC website.
Molecular microbiology department recruits new project leader
The importance of the department’s research was highlighted recently when the UK chief medical officer Professor Sally Davies warned of the ‘catastrophic threat” of antimicrobial resistance.
She said: “We need to encourage more innovation in the development of antibiotics – over the past two decades there has been a discovery void around antibiotics, meaning diseases have evolved faster than the drugs to treat them.”
At JIC, Dr Wilkinson’s research will encompass potentially clinically useful natural products that can fight infections. He will join JIC in June this year.
Major cash for ash
More sequence will be published online and “live reviewed” as it is generated by multiple research partners led by The Sainsbury Laboratory and The John Innes Centre on Norwich Research Park. With £1.5 million from BBSRC they will collaborate to analyse the full genomes of ash and the ash dieback fungus Chalara fraxinea.
Researchers from around the world are invited to help analyse the DNA sequences and to peer review analysis made by others. In the longer term, genetically mapping the ash genes that confer resistance to the pathogen could pave the way for recovery from the epidemic.
The need to feed programmes Campylobacter’s ‘Sat Nav’
Using a newly developed assay, researchers Dr. Mark Reuter and Dr. Arnoud van Vliet found that Campylobacter balances the directions given by two different systems to either seek out more nutritious locations, or to find places where respiration is most efficient. Genetic tools were used to show that the system controlling swimming towards food overrides the other system, suggesting that the “need to feed” is the foremost concern for Campylobacter.
Foodborne illness by Campylobacter: little known, but very common
The Institute of Food Research has a research team dedicated to studying Campylobacter, with funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) as part of the Gut Health and Food Safety Strategic Research Programme. This team, led by Dr. Arnoud van Vliet, investigate what makes Campylobacter so successful in causing diarrhoeal disease. They look at different stages in the lifestyle of Campylobacter, which goes from the intestines in poultry to the surface of foods, and then is ingested and can cause disease. Check the Gut Health and Food Safety blog for examples of current projects.
There is however no magic bullet, but funding agencies, government, regulators, scientists, industry, producers and retailers are working together to come up with procedures and activities aimed at reducing the Campylobacter problem.
Full story: http://news.ifr.ac.uk/2013/01/campylobacter/
Medicinal toothbrush tree yields antibiotic to treat TB in new way
Tuberculosis causes more deaths worldwide than any other infectious disease. At the same time as rates are increasing, resistance strains are emerging due, in part, to non-compliance with the treatment required. Current drugs are nearly 50 years old and alternatives are needed to the long, demanding treatment schedules.
The compound under research, diospyrin, binds to a novel site on a well-known enzyme, called DNA gyrase, and inactivates the enzyme. DNA gyrase is essential for bacteria and plants but is not present in animals or humans. It is established as an effective and safe drug target for antibiotics.
“The way that diospyrin works helps to explain why it is effective against drug-sensitive and drug-resistant strains of tuberculosis,” said Prof. Tony Maxwell from the John Innes Centre.
In traditional medicine the antibacterial properties of the tree are used for oral health and to treat medical complaints such bronchitis, pleurisy and venereal disease. Twigs from the tree are traditionally used as toothbrushes.
What are we doing about food waste?
The IMechE report pointed to a number of areas where wastage occurs. One important reason identified was poor storage conditions leading to spoilage of the food. Research at IFR is contributing to reduce microbial spoilage of food, and also includes studies to understand how three major foodborne bacterial pathogens of the greatest concern to the UK (Salmonella, Campylobacter and Clostridium botulinum) survive and grow in the food chain.
In the UK alone, food poisoning presently affects millions of people per annum, with significant morbidity and mortality, and an annual economic cost of more than £2 billion. We need to reduce the present level of foodborne illness, and understanding more about the bacterial pathogens that cause food poisoning will help achieve this.
Crowdsourcing to kickstart comeback from ash dieback
They have released the data via a website to a system designed for “social coding” of software. The system, called GitHub, was also used to crowdsource expertise during the 2011 E. coli epidemic in Germany.
Experts from around the world will be able to access the RNA sequence and start to analyse it immediately, speeding up the process of discovery. It will also allow live peer review of analysis, helping produce more accurate findings more quickly.
Stockholm University presents Honorary Doctorate to Prof. Ray Dixon
Nature’s chemical toolkit
Plant interaction with friendly bacteria gives pathogens their break
Professor Giles Oldroyd of the John Innes Centre explains how plant roots form beneficial interactions with soil microbes. Almost all plants associate with mycorrhizal fungi to help in the uptake of nutrients such as phosphate. Some plants, particularly legumes, also associate with bacteria that ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen into a form the plant can use as fertiliser.
These two interactions are mediated within the plant by a common signalling pathway. The researchers have identified a specific mycorrhizal transcription factor. They also show how the signalling pathway has been recruited by pathogenic microbes, presenting a challenge to the plant. Its ability to form beneficial interactions can leave it vulnerable to invasion by pathogens.
E. coli adapts to colonise plants
In the light of recent outbreaks of food poisoning due to contamination of vegetables by dangerous strains of E. coli, this information will be useful to making sure our food remains safe.
"While it was known that different environments harboured different E. coli populations, we now have an idea on how and why this happens,” said Dr. Sacha Luccini. “Knowledge of the mechanisms involved in plant colonisation by E. coli provides targets for developing strategies aimed at preventing potentially dangerous E. coli strains from colonising vegetables, thus keeping them off our plates.”
Exciting Group Leader vacancies at JIC
We are seeking to recruit individuals to join our efforts focused on plant response to the environment and cell and developmental biology as well as in the field of molecular microbiology, especially in the Streptomyces area in which JIC has long maintained a world-leading position. Full details on these roles and how to apply can be found on our current vacancies page.
National Scientific Treasures in Norwich
Full story and to watch the full event go to: http://news.ifr.ac.uk/2012/10/national-treasures/
University of East Anglia researchers contribute to Salmonella gene discovery
The scientists tracked the spread of the rapidly-evolving intestinal disease non-Typhoidal Salmonella in sub-Saharan Africa, where it kills one in four infected victims. The findings reveal that the emergence and spread of this blood-borne infection have been worsened by Africa’s HIV epidemic.
Medical microbiologist Prof. John Wain, from UEA’s Norwich Medical School, was closely involved in early stages of the research, published in the journal Nature Genetics. The full team spanned nine countries.
They found that non-Typhoidal Salmonella is caused by a new form of the bacterial pathogen Salmonella Typhimurium that spread from two different focal hubs in Southern and Central Africa beginning 52 and 35 years ago, respectively. They also found that one of the major contributing factors for the spread of the disease was the acquisition of genes that confer resistance to drugs used to treat salmonellosis.
Next Microbes in Norwich meeting to be held in February 2013
All across the NRP are invited to attend.
Assessing a new technique for ensuring fresh produce remains Salmonella-free
Eating fresh fruit and vegetables is promoted as part of a healthy lifestyle, and consumers are responding to this by eating more and in a greater variety. Ensuring fruit and vegetables are free from contamination by food poisoning bacteria is crucial, as they are often eaten raw, without cooking or processing that kills off bacteria. Cold atmospheric gas plasma technology is a potential new sterilization technique that may solve this problem.
Plasmas are a mix of highly energetic particles created when gases are excited by an energy source. They can be used to destroy bacteria, but as new research shows some microbes can hide from its effects in the microscopic surface structures of different foods. Dr. Arthur Thompson at the Institute of Food Research has been investigating how well cold atmospheric plasmas (CAP) inactivate Salmonella under different conditions and on different fresh produce foods. Publishing in the journal Food Microbiology, Dr. Thompson found Salmonella could be effectively inactivated by plasmas, but the length of exposure varied greatly depending on the type of produce.
TSL celebrates double boost for young researchers
The ERC awards are designed to support young investigators to develop independent careers.
Dr Robatzek’s project will look at stomata, the tiny holes in leaves that plants use to ‘breathe.’ Dr Zipfel’s grant is to investigate the signalling mechanisms plants use when they detect a pathogenic microbe.
Full story: http://www.tsl.ac.uk/tslerc.html
Study looks to separate side effects from antibiotic activity
Tunicamycin is an antibiotic produced by the soil bacterium Streptomyces that was discovered 40 years ago. It works by blocking cell wall production in bacteria in a clinically novel way, making it a potentially very attractive candidate for treating antibiotic-resistant pathogens. However, to date it has not been developed for use as a drug as it also affects crucial human enzymes, making it toxic.
In 2010 Professor Mervyn Bibb of the John Innes Centre, in collaboration with Professor Ben Davis at the University of Oxford discovered the cluster of genes Streptomyces uses to make tunicamycin. Now, with £460,000 of funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council a new project will work out the steps Streptomyces uses to synthesise tunicamycin. The ultimate aim is rationally alter the synthesis pathway in such a way that the antibiotic is still active against bacteria but lacks serious side effects.
Full story: http://news.jic.ac.uk/2012/08/tunicamycin/
UEA students compete for top biology prize
The NRP UEA team will compete in the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition along with 192 other teams from across the world. The 55 European teams will compete in the regional jamboree in Amsterdam on October 5th-7th, with selected teams going forward to the worldwide finals taking place in the USA in November.
iGEM is a project designed to advance a new branch of science known as ‘synthetic biology’, a rapidly growing scientific field in which living organisms and systems are engineered to create original materials, fuels and medicines. The competition was created to inspire a new generation of scientists to take up work in this area of study.
Each iGEM team requires a number of academic advisers, and several members of UEA staff are providing support for the team. These include Richard Kelwick, a final year PhD student, and Dr Richard Bowater, senior lecturer, both from UEA’s School of Biological Sciences.
Bacteria Branch Out
Their research, soon to be published in PNAS Plus, has uncovered how the process of branching is regulated. Antje showed that the branching controller DivIVA is itself controlled by phosphorylation, and identified the specific kinase responsible. During normal growth only low levels of DivIVA phosphorylation are seen. But when tip growth is blocked with cell wall synthesis inhibitors, mimicking when the growing tip hits an obstacle in the soil, this triggers phosphorylation of DivIVA and changes the branching pattern of the organism.
'The Ser/Thr protein kinase AfsK regulates polar growth and hyphal branching in the filamentous bacteria Streptomyces', Antje Hempel et al, will be published online by PNAS Plus the week beginning August 6th doi: 10.1073/pnas.1207409109
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Genetic discovery will help fight diarrhoea outbreaks
Published in the journal Evolutionary Applications, the findings pave the way for a new gold standard test to distinguish between the two main Cryptosporidium species that affect humans. One species is spread from person to person (Cryptosporidium hominis) while the other is often spread from livestock to people (Cryptosporidium parvum).
"Being able to discriminate quickly between the two species means it is easier to spot an outbreak as it develops, trace the original source, and take appropriate urgent action to prevent further spread," said lead author Dr Kevin Tyler of Norwich Medical School at UEA.
The activity of a bacterial effector protein seen in molecular detail
Gram-negative bacterial pathogens can deliver effector proteins directly into host cells through a specific secretion system. This allows them to manipulate host cell processes for the benefit of the pathogen. Knowledge of how effectors interface with host cell molecules is critical for understanding both the mechanisms of pathogenesis and how effectors could be used to deliver new insights into host cell biology.
Dr Mark Banfield at the John Innes Centre, funded by a grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), has uncovered the structure of a bacterial effector molecule called 'Cif' bound to its host target protein NEDD8. The Cif effector is found in a number of other pathogenic bacteria including strains of E. coli, Burkholderia, Photorhabdus and Yersinia species.
Why is it so difficult to trace the origins of food poisoning outbreaks?
In the first study of its kind, strategically funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and published in the journal PLoS ONE, the scientists studied databases of food import and export to understand how 'food fluxes' generate a complicated worldwide network.
The foodborne bacterium Campylobacter requires selenium for respiration of organic acids
As formate dehydrogenase is important for Campylobacter colonisation of the chicken gut, this may open up possibilities to target this pathway for antimicrobial purposes. In addition, as these selenium metabolism genes and the formate dehydrogenase enzyme are also present in other important foodborne pathogens including Salmonella and E. coli, it may be possible to extend these investigations to other areas of food safety.
UEA Appointment to BBSRC Council
During the last five years Prof. David Richardson has been at the heart of the development of the Research and Innovation Vision for Norwich Research Park (NRP). The coherence of this activity has led to a recent investment of £26m from BBSRC into the NRP to help build infrastructure to support the UK bioeconomy.
Exposure to stomach acid primes Campylobacter for intestinal infection
To understand more of how Campylobacter reacts to the sudden change in acidity, post graduate student Thanh Le (pictured left) and colleagues have identified which genes are turned on or off by acid shock. Reference: Le MT, Porcelli I, Weight CM, Gaskin DJH, Carding SR, van Vliet AHM (2012) Acid-shock of Campylobacter jejuni induces flagellar gene expression and host cell invasion. European Journal of Microbiology and Immunology 2(1), 12–19. (doi: 10.1556/EuJMI.2.2012.1.3)
Prestigious award for TSL scientist
Professor Jones has made numerous and sustained contributions to the science of plant pathology. His group was among the first to isolate and characterize a plant disease resistance gene. By cloning the Cf-9 gene in 1994, he was the first to demonstrate that resistance induced in plants towards pathogens is based on specific classes of innate immune receptors. His work preceded the 1996 discovery of innate immune receptors in animal systems, which was recognized by the 2011 Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology.
Professor Mervyn Bibb of the John Innes Centre has been awarded the Heatley Medal and Prize by the Biochemical Society, for his contribution to the development of novel antibiotics.
Professor Mervyn Bibb's four decades of research with the John Innes Centre and in California have seen him apply the highest standards of biochemical and molecular rigour in his elucidation of fundamental aspects of Streptomyces gene expression. More recently, his work on a new class of antibiotics, the Streptomyces lantibiotics, and the regulation of antibiotic biosynthesis has led to the emergence of two companies.
Dr. Lisa Crossman, Microbial Genomes Project Leader at TGAC will present Cold beansprouts, cucumbers, crowds and coli: the story of an outbreak. The Maddermarket Theatre Bar, St. John’s Alley, Norwich, NR2 1DR - 22 February 2012 - 19:30
Dr. Crossman will be talking about the E.Coli outbreak that hit Germany in May 2011. The outbreak was severe and infected adults with increased numbers of women affected. Initial attempts to identify the disease source proved difficult.
The European epidemiology investigation reached its conclusion in July 2011. The outbreak strain may have been carried on beansprout seeds imported to Germany in 2009. The suggestion is that the organisms survived until 2011 on or in seeds. However, no outbreak E. coli bacteria have yet been found in the seedlot in question.
New research to study toxin-producing E. coli strain
A new research programme at the IFR and the UEA, led by Dr. Stephanie Schüller working together with Dr. Sacha Lucchini, is to examine how strains of toxin-producing E. coli bacteria infect our bodies and cause life-threatening conditions. The work will be funded by a New Investigator Research Grant to Dr. Schüller from the Medical Research Council.
Shiga toxin-producing E. coli bacteria (STEC) are a leading cause of foodborne illness worldwide, and a particularly virulent strain was behind the outbreak that affected Germany and France in 2011. A better understanding of the biology of these strains will help to develop new ways of preventing the devastating effects these foodborne pathogens can have.
Understanding how bacteria come back from the dead
Bacteria can multiply rapidly, potentially doubling every 20 minutes in ideal conditions. However, this exponential growth phase is preceded by a period known as lag phase, where no increase in cell number is seen. Previously, little was known about lag phase, other than bacteria are metabolically active in this period. This work could provide clues to finding new ways of reducing transmission through the food chain and preventing human illness. Reference: Lag phase is a distinct growth phase that prepares bacteria for exponential growth and involves transient metal accumulation. Journal of Bacteriology 194(3): 686-701 doi:10.1128/JB.06112-11
Finding Campylobacter's weakness
Scientists at the Institute of Food Research, including Dr. Arnoud van Vliet who leads IFR's Campylobacter research, have combined experimental and mathematical modelling approaches to identify the key genes and metabolic pathways needed for growth and survival of Campylobacter. Reference: In vivo and in silico determination of essential genes of Campylobacter jejuni, BMC Genomics 12: 535 doi: 10.1186/1471-2164-12-535
Professor Colin Murrell joins UEA as a Director of ELSA
Next generation sequencing surveys Salmonella
"Mapping where the majority of Salmonella genes start to be transcribed from and discovering non-coding RNAs is a major landmark, as this will allow us much greater insight into how the genes that are required for virulence are controlled," said Dr Thompson.