Life Sciences News
Warwick extends synthetic biology collaborations with Brazil
Katherine 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.
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’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’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 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.
Plant science collaboration with Brazil to improve vegetable crops
Dr 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.
Undergraduate and newly graduated students from Warwick University will be travelling to MIT, Boston, this September 24-28 to compete in a global synthetic biology competition.
The team is interdisciplinary, with students from distinct academic fields bringing different skills and expertise to the table. These departments involve Maths, Physics, Engineering and Life Sciences, with Biomedical, Biochemical and Biological Sciences represented.
The team will be supported with advice from academic and research staff, including Prof Alfonso Jaramillo and Prof John McCarthy, among others, at the School of Life Sciences.
GARNish newsletter puts spotlight on plant science at Warwick
The latest GARNish newsletter highlights plant science in Life Sciences, profiling the work of our academics.
'Plant science research at the University of Warwick is characterised by the breadth of expertise - from fundamental molecular mechanisms to projects with direct application to industry. We have world-class basic science in signalling, gene regulation, development, plant– environment (microbes, virus, soil) interactions, and evolution through to pest management, crop genetics and genomics underpinning the development of new varieties.'
Read the newsletter (pdf)