Skip to main content

Life Sciences News

See our Latest Journal Publications and Film and Audio

Dr Elizabeth Fullam wins Seed Grant Award to study Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Elizabeth FullamDr Elizabeth Fullam has been awarded a seed grant of £25k from the Warwick Quantitative Biomedicine Programme (funded through the Wellcome Trust Institutional Strategic Support Fund). In a programme open to all Warwick researchers, seed grants are provided through an open, peer reviewed competition to explore quantitative biology in all areas of modern biology. Dr Fullam's project aims to quantify nutrient uptake and metabolism in Mycobacterium tuberculosis and will fund a postdoctoral researcher for 6 months.

Tuberculosis (TB) caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb) is a major global health problem, with the World Health Organisation reporting 9 million new cases of TB and 1.5 million deaths from TB in 2014 alone. It is estimated that one-third of the world’s population is latently infected with Mtb and Mtb is unique in its ability to be able to survive within the human host for decades.

Currently there is a lack in our understanding of the nutrients that Mtb is able to utilise to survive intracellularly. The aim of this Quantitative Biomedical Seed Grant is to utilise advanced imaging techniques to enable us to understand and quantify these essential nutrient uptake and metabolism processes in this pathogenic organism.

Research Fellow vacancy - apply by 16 February 2016

Thu 04 February 2016, 13:13 | Tags: Biomedical Science Infection Faculty of Science

SBRI funding received to develop diagnostic biosensors for strokes

Sarissa Biomedical, a spin-out company established by Professor Nick Dale, Ted Pridgeon Professor of Neuroscience in the School of Life Sciences, has been awarded £150,000 from Innovate UK’s Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI). Sarissa Biomedical has pioneered highly sensitive analytical devices known as microelectrode biosensors, which can be used to monitor in real-time the levels of purines - neurochemicals that influence the function of the nervous system. These biosensors have been used to demonstrate that purines are elevated in the blood of stroke patients compared to healthy controls.
Stroke is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the UK – in 2010 there were an estimated 150,000 strokes and 50,000 deaths attributable to stroke. Stroke currently costs the UK economy approximately £9billion per year in health and social care costs. Rapid treatment of ischaemic strokes to remove the blockage of cerebral circulation can allow perfect recovery and avoid lasting disability. On average for every 15 minutes saved in the period from stroke onset to the provision of treatment, one extra month of disability-free life is achieved. Point-of-care tests that can detect stroke from its earliest moments would help to shorten treatment delays and ensure that as many patients as possible receive treatment.
The SBRI funding will enable the project team to develop the biosensor technology into a prototype diagnostic device for strokes that can be used by paramedics. It will also support the analysis of the stroke clinical pathway to determine how the device can be used most effectively, and it will allow the design of a large-scale clinical trial involving paramedics and ambulance staff across the UK. Deployment of this test with paramedics will allow speedier identification of stoke victims at the point of injury, and facilitate rapid coordination of the clinical treatment pathway to maximise the chances of the best possible patient outcomes.

Plants use a molecular clock to predict when they’ll be infected

Infected leavesDr Katherine Denby and colleagues discovered that a plant's molecular clock is connected to their immune system to increase levels of resistance to infection at dawn – the time at which fungal infections appear most likely to occur, with plants unable to maintain the highest level of resistance at all times of day.

The researchers identified a single protein, JAZ6, in the plant cell which drives this time-of-day difference in the effectiveness of the immune response, with it connecting the plant clock to the immune system.

Read full press release and watch the video

Professor Liz Wellington receives BBSRC award to investigate bovine tuberculosis control strategies

Liz WellingtonProfessor Liz Wellington, Professor of Environmental Microbiology in the School of Life Sciences, has been awarded £1,172,973 from BBSRC for her project on ‘The farm environment: an overlooked reservoir of Mycobacterium bovis?’.

M. bovis is the causative agent of bovine tuberculosis (bTB), a disease that affects cattle health and welfare and has serious impacts on the agriculture industry. Uncertainty around the transmission of bTB has impeded the development of effective control measures, but recent research has suggested that indirect transmission through M. bovis in the environment may play an important role in the spread of bTB between cattle and wildlife. This project brings together interdisciplinary expertise in epidemiology, microbiology, genomics and ecology, to investigate the distribution and survival of M. bovis in the farm environment and to determine how biosecurity measures may be adjusted to limit the transmission of this harmful bacterium. The research will be carried out in collaboration with Professor Mark Pallen from Warwick Medical School, Professor Rosie Woodroffe from the ZSL Institute of Zoology, and Professor Christl Donnelly from Imperial College London.

The project was funded by BBSRC’s Eradication of bovine tuberculosis through basic research and discovery (ERADbTB) scheme, which is also supported by DEFRA and is part of the wider Research Councils UK programme in Global Food Security.

Professor John McCarthy receives MRC award to identify novel drug therapies

John McCarthyProfessor John McCarthy, Professor of Molecular Systems Biology at the University of Warwick School of Life Sciences, and Director of the Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre (WISB), has received funding from the MRC to pursue research on ’Protein synthesis in trypanosomatids as a target for novel drug therapies’. The FEC award of £360k will be complemented by a simultaneous award from Fundação Araucária in the State of Paraná (Brazil) to collaborators in the Carlos Chagas Institute in Curitiba. Colleagues at the University of Leeds will also be involved in the project.

Trypanosomatids are parasites that migrate between insect vectors and mammalian hosts. They cause a number of highly debilitating and potentially fatal diseases with major impacts on human health and wellbeing on a global scale. Trypanosoma cruzi, which causes Chagas disease, is believed to affect at least 11 million people in Mexico, Central America and South America. Leishmania is now endemic in South America, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and more than 20 countries in Europe.

Given that the current anti-parasitic treatments are unpleasant, not fully effective, and encountering resistance, there is an urgent need for a new strategy to identify safe, efficacious drugs. This collaborative project will explore whether drugs can be developed based on selective targeting of protein-protein interactions in the trypanosomatid protein synthesis machinery.

The project was funded through MRC’s UK-Brazil Neglected Infectious Diseases Partnership scheme.

Mon 14 December 2015, 12:07 | Tags: Biomedical Science Infection Award Faculty of Science

BBSRC Future Leader Fellowship awarded for phage therapy project

AntoniaAntonia Sagona has been awarded a prestigious BBSRC Future Leader Fellowship for her project on ‘Engineering synthetic phages against pathogenic E. coli as an innovative tool for phage therapy’.

Antimicrobial resistance is an increasing problem. Antimicrobial-resistant infections currently claim at least 50,000 lives each year across Europe and the US alone, with many hundreds of thousands more dying in other areas of the world. Phage therapy offers an alternative to conventional antibiotics as bacteriophages are naturally occurring viruses that infect and kill bacteria; they have high specificity for their bacterial targets and the side effects are minimal.

Antonia’s project will use state-of-the-art microscopy to understand the mechanisms by which phages infect and kill their bacterial targets. She will also engineer synthetic phages to target a strain of E. coli that is responsible for several serious medical conditions, including neonatal meningitis, sepsis, acute cystitis, and secondary infections in burn patients.
Antonia currently works as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with Alfonso Jaramillo, and the Fellowship will support her transition towards becoming a fully independent research leader. Further information on the scheme is available at BBSRC Future Leader Fellowship.

What new diagnostics are required to assist in eliminating visceral leishmaniasis in the Indian sub-continent?

Authors of a new supplement in journal Nature argue that investment in simple diagnostic tools for the developing world could have a dramatic impact on health, saving lives and ending disease epidemics. The supplement includes a paper by Dr Deirdre Hollingsworth and colleagues on 'Health-seeking behaviour, diagnostics and transmission dynamics in the control of visceral leishmaniasis in the Indian subcontinent'.

Visceral leishmaniasis is an infectious disease which causes significant numbers of deaths in the Indian sub-continent every year. Kala azar, or “black fever”, as it is known, is characterized by fever followed by potentially severe symptoms such as a swollen spleen. Untreated it is believed to almost uniformly fatal. Currently there is a large international effort to eliminate kala azar, but there is a need to consider strategies which will prevent a resurgence of infection when these controls are lifted.

Results published in Nature today suggest that reductions in time from when fever develops to diagnosis and effective treatment could be enough to reduce onward transmission and reduce the number of cases. Currently in Bihar state in northern India, it can take 90 days to be diagnosed, where as diagnosis times are shorter in Bangladesh and Nepal, where incidence is also lower.

The research, which was a collaboration across four institutions, used mathematical models to investigate the dynamics of infection in areas with different diagnosis times and suggested that reduced time to diagnosis by weeks or months may be an effective control strategy. By using simple models, informed by the limited data available on this neglected tropical disease, we can get an understanding of the dynamics of transmission.

The analysis also highlighted the potential use of a new diagnostic that would identify infections early in their development, before serious symptoms. Even at a moderately low probability of detecting a case, this had the potential to identify enough cases early enough to reduce transmission. However, the researchers also highlighted that such a diagnostic would have to be very specific to visceral leishmaniasis, otherwise there would be many false positives, particularly as cases of visceral leishmaniasis become rarer.

Read the supplement: 'Infectious disease control and elimination - Modelling the impact of improved diagnostics'

The research was coordinated by The Diagnostics Modelling Consortium

Thu 03 December 2015, 16:05 | Tags: Biomedical Science Infection Faculty of Science

BBSRC award to run plant science data workshop

PAG conferenceDr Katherine Denby has been awarded £7,750 from the BBSRC International Scientific Interchange Scheme to run a “Data standards for the Plant Sciences” workshop at the Plant and Animal Genome Conference (PAG 2016) in San Diego in January.

The workshop will bring together leading experts from across the world working in the areas of data and experimental description; data identification and discovery/re-use; data integration and data citation.

The first day of the workshop will showcase a number of key activities and projects currently being undertaken globally and provide a public forum for discussion and raising awareness of issues associated with sharing data within the plant science community.

The second day will consist of a closed forum to map out current activities and assess their contributions to a systematic approach to data management and standards in plant sciences.

The workshop will generate a report describing current pools of expertise, identifying gaps and community needs and outlining mechanisms to meet these needs.

Further details of workshop (information will be updated as speakers confirm)

Tue 01 December 2015, 14:01 | Tags: Plant and Crop Science Faculty of Science

Bacteria cells group together in communities and use electrical signalling to survive

Dr AsallyResearch by Dr Munehiro Asally and colleagues shows cells group together to electronically communicate and ensure nutrients reach where they are needed.

“By oscillating, nutrients are able to reach the cells that form the inner region of the biofilm. If the biofilm was not to do so then those inner cells would die and the biofilm would fail to function”

Read the Press Release

Wed 25 November 2015, 12:42 | Tags: Biomedical Science Biotechnology Faculty of Science

Leprosy and Elephantiasis: new cases could be prevented in ten years

The life chances of over one billion people could be improved through examining the transmission of nine neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) says Dr Deirdre Hollingsworth, principal investigator of an international consortium of researchers.

Read the Press Release

Thu 22 October 2015, 16:32 | Tags: Biomedical Science Biotechnology Infection Faculty of Science

Warwick-Monash Alliance funds workshop on Autophagy research

Profs Devenish, Cuervo and NezisOn September 24-25, a Warwick-Monash Alliance funded workshop on Autophagy research was held at Monash University. The workshop was organised by Professor Rodney Devenish (Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology, Monash University) and Associate Professor Dr Ioannis P. Nezis (School of Life Sciences, University of Warwick). The workshop included formal presentations, an idea-sharing forum, small group interactions and a public lecture with keynote speaker Professor Ana Maria Cuervo, a world-leader in autophagy research field, from Institute for Aging Research, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. The main focus of the workshop was to bring Warwick and Monash researchers together to collaborate and to develop ideas and concepts for future joint funding.

Formed in early 2012, the Monash Warwick Alliance represents an innovation in higher education and research and aims to accelerate the exchange of people, ideas and information between Monash University and the University of Warwick.

(Image: Prof Devenish, Prof Cuervo and Prof Nezis)

Dr David Roper receives BBSRC grant to explore next generation antibiotics

E.ColiDr David Roper has been awarded £1.1M from BBSRC-LINK grant for his project on ‘Tools and Reagents for Next Generation Inhibitor Discovery in Peptidoglycan biosynthesis’.

The two-year project will be carried out in collaboration with industrial partner Merck Pharmaceuticals and includes Prof Chris Dowson and Dr Adrian Lloyd from the School of Life Sciences as co-investigators. Antimicrobial resistance to existing antibiotics threatens future healthcare at multiple levels and has been acknowledged as a worldwide issue with an impact as important as climate change. However, a number of factors has led to a steady decline in the discovery and development of antimicrobials in the pharmaceutical industry despite the clear clinical need. This study will investigate the enzymes involved in an early stage of bacterial cell wall synthesis as a target for new antimicrobial drugs. The project seeks to gain the essential knowledge required to explore these enzymes for next generation antibiotics. The team will generate a series of specialist chemical probes to interrogate the mechanism by which these enzymes work, determine the structures of these probes bound to the enzymes, and generate new assays that will allow the discovery of future antibiotics.

Mon 28 September 2015, 10:40 | Tags: Biomedical Science Biotechnology Infection Faculty of Science

Marine conservation research in top 20 global impact case studies

Coral reef researchThe UK Collaborative on Development Sciences (UKCDS) has listed the School of Life Sciences marine conservation case study as one of its top 20 favourite impact stories showing how research is improving lives of people around the world. The study led by Prof Charles Sheppard was selected from 6,975 impact case studies submitted to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) which is a system used to assess research quality in UK universities.

The case study shows how Prof Charles Sheppard and colleagues have been co-ordinating new approaches to coral reef conservation, restoration and management, using the coral reefs and islands in the Chagos Archipelago as a reference site. Underpinned by UK research, this British Indian Ocean Territory has now been declared a Marine Protected Area, supporting ecosystem conservation to benefit tropical habitats and help preserve livelihoods in some of the poorest countries in that region.

For full details visit UKCDS Conserving marine environments

(Image courtesy of Anne Sheppard)

Best student poster awards for PhD student Kathryn Hales

Kathryn HalesSchool of Life Sciences PhD student Kathryn Hales, won both the John Colhoun Prize awarded for best student poster at the British Society for Plant Pathology Presidential Meeting 2015, and the best student poster award at the recent AHDB Studentship Conference.

Her poster was entitled 'Understanding the ecology and epidemiology of Pythium violae to enable disease management in carrot crops'.

Inaugural SLS Undergraduate Project Impact Prize awarded

ArchnaThe outstanding research of two undergraduate students in SLS has been recognised by them becoming joint recipients of the School’s Undergraduate Project Impact Prize.

Final-year students Archna Shah (pictured) and Sarah Brocklesby performed their research projects in the laboratory of Dr David Roper, and made significant contributions to his programme of research on antimicrobial resistance.

The rapid rise of multi-drug-resistant bacteria is a global healthcare crisis, and new antibiotics are urgently required. Research at Warwick seeks to identify particular structural information on this essential class of enzymes that may lead to a new antibiotic discovery strategy. Archna and Sarah worked in parallel on cloning, expression, purification and crystallisation of tRNA synthetases from the bacteria S. aureus and E. coli respectively. These proteins were required as part of an MRC-funded research grant entitled Multi-Targeting of tRNA synthetases: A paradigm shift in combating Antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The clones that the students produced have now been provided to MRC-funded postdoctoral researcher, Dr Dominico Bellini working at the Diamond Light Source synchrotron facility in Oxfordshire, who has used them to produce protein crystals that enabled totally new X-ray crystal structures of the corresponding tRNA synthetase enzymes to be produced. The first of these structures was determined at a near-atomic resolution of 1.3Å, the day before Archna and Sarah graduated in July 2015 and is the highest resolution structure of this class so far discovered!

Archna and Sarah’s clones have made a pivotal contribution to this project at its very earliest stage and we expect that the project will lead to significant advances in antibiotic drug discovery in the future.

Both students have shown great promise and they have already made the next step towards advancing their research careers: Sarah now works for the biotechnology company ProImmune, based in Oxford, and Archna recently started an MBio industrial placement with Micropathology Ltd at the University of Warwick Science Park.

Thu 17 September 2015, 09:49 | Tags: Research Faculty of Science

NERC grant success for Prof Dave Scanlan

Dave ScanlanProf Dave Scanlan has been awarded £386,000 by NERC for his project on 'Revealing a mechanistic understanding of the role of viruses and host nutrient status in modulating CO2fixation in key marine phototrophs'. The research will be carried out in collaboration with Dr Andy Millard from Warwick Medical School, and colleagues at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and focuses on understanding the impact of viral infection on marine photosynthesis, which has implications for ocean carbon cycling and climate change.

Mon 07 September 2015, 14:09 | Tags: Environmental Bioscience Infection Research Faculty of Science

Warwick extends synthetic biology collaborations with Brazil

FAPES2014Katherine Denby, Vardis Ntoukakis and Patrick Schafer have been awarded £39,000 for establishing research collaborations between the plant synthetic biology group of Warwick Intregrative Synthetic Biology Centre (WISB) and the Biomass Systems and Synthetic Biology Center (BSSB) at the University of São Paulo.

The funding from the Warwick–FAPESP Sprint scheme will fund a number of initiatives over two years, with the partnership lead on the Brazilian side by Prof Marie-Anne Van Sluys. Specific activities are planned to strengthen the collaboration and leverage additional research funding. We will build on the success of our Plant Synthetic Biology workshop at Warwick in September 2014 which was attended by 9 Brazilian PhD students and early career scientists, and run a second workshop in early 2016 with increased inclusion of synthetic biology engineering concepts. Two grant writing workshops will be held, one at Warwick and one in São Paulo, to develop proposals for EMBO and FAPESP funding for future Synthetic Biology workshops and joint applications for BBSRC-FAPESP research grant funding. Specific research exchanges by early career scientists and undergraduate students in both directions will build the collaboration at all levels.

Fri 07 August 2015, 13:39 | Tags: Biotechnology Award Research Faculty of Science

IAS Fellowship success for PhD students

School of Life Sciences PhD students Max Newbert and Nicola Galley have been awarded Early Career Fellowships by the University of Warwick’s Institute of Advanced Study (IAS). The fellowships are designed to support Warwick doctoral candidates in the transition phase between their doctoral and postdoctoral careers. In addition to continuing research carried out during their PhD projects, Fellows have the opportunity to participate in collegiate and career development activities including leading a research-orientated workshop for other members of the IAS, assisting at the IAS-led Research Showcase events, and attending the weekly Academic Careers and Employment programme.

max newbertMax’s fellowship will focus on continuing and publishing research completed during the course of his BBSRC PhD studentship entitled 'The genetic diversity of Turnip yellows virus in oilseed rape (Brassica napus) in Europe, pathogenic determinants, new sources of resistance and host range'. Max’s studentship received extra funding from the Perry Foundation, a UK charity that promotes education and research connected with agriculture or food production for the benefit of the public. Turnip yellows virus (TuYV) is a major threat to oilseed rape and other brassicas reducing yields by up to 65%. Very high levels of virus have been detected in this year’s crop and there is evidence of 20-24% reduction in yield due to TuYV, from crops harvested so far. Max’s work has highlighted the prevalence of the virus in mainland Europe, identified isolates with novel host ranges and identified significant and new information on the phylogeny of the species, all of which are important for breeding resistant plant lines. The fellowship will be carried out at Wellesbourne under the supervision of Dr John Walsh.

Nicola GalleyNicola’s fellowship will build on research undertaken during her BBSRC PhD studentship on 'The role of species-specific modifications in peptidoglycan biosynthesis'. Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) is a catastrophic threat to human health, dramatically reducing the effectiveness of drugs that we have come to rely on in common medical practice. It has been predicted that if resistance continues to grow at the same rate, 10 million people will die every year as a direct result of AMR infections by 2050. Understanding the bacterial cell wall and its main component, peptidoglycan, is vitally important in the development of new antimicrobials. Penicillin binding proteins (PBPs) are responsible for making peptidoglycan and are excellent targets for antimicrobial drugs as they are essential for cell viability. Nicola’s research identified a critical PBP substrate recognition phenomenon in Streptococcus pneumonia that has led to significant advances in understanding the cell wall synthesis process. During the fellowship Nicola aims to write several high-impact publications, present her research at international interdisciplinary conferences, and organise a symposium at Warwick on the topic of antimicrobial resistance. The fellowship will be carried out under the supervision of Dr David Roper and Prof Chris Dowson.

Congratulations to Max and Nicola on their success!

Dr Liz Fullam awarded Innovation Grant to combat antimicrobial resistance in TB

Dr Liz FullamDr Liz Fullam, a Wellcome Trust/Royal Society Sir Henry Dale Fellow in the School of Life Sciences, has been awarded a £237,000 Innovation Grant from the MRC and BBSRC’s Tackling Anti-Microbial Resistance (AMR) initiative. The award is in collaboration with Dr Matthew Gibson (Department of Chemistry) and is one of eight grants awarded in this round. The AMR initiative is a cross-Council call to drive forward innovative research in order to: understand the resistant bacterium at molecular, cell and community levels; understand the context of host/pathogen interactions in humans or animals; identify and validate novel targets (both host and bacterial) for new anti-bacterials; understand transmission of resistance in human or animal hosts.

The two-year project will focus on Mycobacterium tuberculosis, one of the largest causes of mortality from a single infectious agent world-wide. The research groups of Dr Liz Fullam and Dr Matt Gibson will combine their expertise and utilise chemical biology to identify new therapeutics and diagnostics for this deadly pathogen.

Mon 03 August 2015, 10:27 | Tags: Biomedical Science Infection Research Faculty of Science

Plant science collaboration with Brazil to improve vegetable crops

Brazil collaboration 2015Dr John Walsh, Associate Professor in the School of Life Sciences, and his collaborators have been awarded £15,000 for a research project on the characterisation of Potyviruses infecting vegetable crops in Brazil. The project was funded through the FAPESP SPRINT scheme (São Paulo Researchers in International Collaboration), which aims to encourage and promote the advancement of scientific research through partnerships between researchers in São Paulo State and overseas. The University of Warwick is one of only five UK institutions that has partnered with the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) to support this scheme.

Dr Walsh’s project will be carried out in collaboration with Prof Elliot Kitajima from the University of São Paulo’s Department of Plant Pathology and Nematology in Piracicaba and Dr Marcelo Eiras from the Instituto Biologico in São Paulo. Initial activities to develop this partnership were supported by the University of Warwick’s Brazil Partnership Fund in 2014. The Brazilian operation of the commercial seed company Sakata are also involved in the research programme.

Potyviruses cause significant losses in agricultural, pastoral, horticultural and ornamental crops. This project focusses on Turnip mosaic virus (TuMV), which causes diseases in the economically important brassica family of crops including broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip and oilseed rape. Through determining the diversity of TuMV and investigating broad-spectrum resistance to the virus the team is expecting to identify naturally occurring resistance genes which can then be introduced into commercial crop lines. The collaboration brings together complementary expertise in plant science research which will lead to significant synergies and knowledge exchange, but also has the potential to generate substantial societal and economic benefits through collaboration with industry and the resulting exploitation of intellectual property.

Older news