UC scientist wins $100,000 to study Staph infection-causing bacteria

21 November 2018

A University of Canterbury researcher has been awarded $100,000 to study Staph infection-causing bacteria, in a study that could save lives around the world.

  • Johnston_NWS_block

    UC Biochemistry Lecturer Dr Jodie Johnston has won funding from the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation to pursue her goal of understanding how vitamin K2 (menaquinone) affects the ability of bacteria to form biofilms.

A University of Canterbury researcher has been awarded $100,000 to study Staph infection-causing bacteria, in a study that could save lives around the world.

Biochemistry Lecturer Dr Jodie Johnston, from UC’s College of Science and Biomolecular Interaction Centre, has won funding from the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation to pursue her goal of understanding how vitamin K2 (also called menaquinone) affects the ability of bacteria to form biofilms.

Dr Johnston will study biofilm formation in the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. S. aureus causes a range of infections from common skin infections like boils, school sores and cellulitis, to infections associated with surgical implants like hip replacements, heart, bone and blood infections, toxic shock syndrome and pneumonia. These infections are often recurrent and increasing numbers are caused by strains like methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA).

In 2017, the World Health Organisation published its first ever list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens”. S. aureus is listed as one of the 12 families of bacteria that pose the greatest threat to human health. New Zealand has among the highest reported incidence of infections with the bacterium.

The ability of S. aureus to persist in the human body is helped by its ability to make biofilms, where individual bacteria adhere together on a surface. They have the ability to sense environmental cues and interpret these as signals to cluster. One signal is given by the small molecule menaquinone.

Dr Johnston’s research group have long-standing expertise in understanding the enzymes in bacteria that are used to make menaquinone.

“I’ll be working with molecules that inhibit these enzymes, meaning the bacteria cannot make menaquinone,” Dr Johnston says.

“These molecules have been made by collaborators of mine at the Maurice Wilkins Centre for Molecular Biodiscovery. We want to see if we can use this approach to disrupt or prevent biofilm formation.

“Hopefully this work can ultimately lead to developing drugs to better target and treat S. aureus infection.”

Dr Johnston is an academic researcher in the School of Physical and Chemical Sciences and Biomolecular Interaction Centre. She is a highly experienced structural biologist and protein biochemist with a long history working with menaquinone synthesis in the bacterium that causes tuberculosis (Mycobaterium tuberculosis). This project involves a collaboration with Dr Monica Gerth of Victoria University of Wellington, who is an expert in studying biofilm formation. They will begin this project in late-2018.

For further information please contact:

Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 275 030 168margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz
Tweet UC @UCNZ and follow UC on Facebook

Jennifer Crowther

UC researcher develops predictive test for pre-eclampsia

A University of Canterbury biochemist is creating a way to diagnose the life-threatening condition pre-eclampsia with the potential to save the lives ...

Jodie Johnston in lab

UC scientist wins $100,000 to study Staph infection-causing bacteria

A University of Canterbury researcher has been awarded $100,000 to study Staph infection-causing bacteria, in a study that could save lives around the ...