Marsden Fund grant for UC-led research on setting ‘an antimicrobial TRAP’

02 March 2020

A University of Canterbury (UC)-led study taking a close-up look at how bacteria import essential nutrients, aims to provide new insights on harmful bacteria and the processes that enable them to thrive. Its findings could support the future development of new antibiotics. The leading-edge biomolecular research has won a three–year $890,000 grant from the 2019 Marsden Fund Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden.

  • Ren Dobson

    Professor Renwick Dobson

It is possible to think of cells, in a metaphorical sense, as castles with moats that separate them from their surrounding environment. In this scenario, moats are membranes and the guards controlling essential supplies allowed into the castle are specialised transporter proteins.

This may be a helpful metaphor but, of course, the reality is much more complex and these transporter proteins – buried within cell membranes - are much harder to study than any castle guard! Peeling back the layers on how transporter proteins work is the goal of a UC-led research project that recently received a prestigious 2019 Marsden Fund grant.

The project’s principal investigator is Professor Renwick Dobson of UC’s School of Biological Sciences. He is also a researcher with the UC Biomolecular Interaction Centre (BIC), a premier research institute on campus. Joining Professor Dobson in this study are Associate Professor Jane Allison (University of Auckland), Dr Rachel North (UC) and Professor S. Wakatsuki (School of Medicine, Stanford University). Collectively, their expertise spans biophysics, structural biology and molecular modelling.

In focus for the research team is a particular family of proteins called TRAP transporters. They hope to unravel the molecular details of how these transporters move essential nutrients across the bacterial cell membrane and into the cell.

As well as providing fundamental insights on molecular activities, their findings could produce other far-reaching benefits. “This knowledge will drive a better understanding of bacterial pathogenicity and colonisation, and underpin the future development of new antibiotics to combat harmful bacteria,” says Professor Dobson.

The Marsden Fund Te Pūtea Rangahau a Marsden supports excellent New Zealand research. This project is one six at UC to have been awarded a three-year standard grant. The amounts awarded – between $530,000 and $960,000 - are in line with each project’s research requirements. Six 2019 Fast-Start grants of $300,000 each were also made to support UC’s outstanding emerging researchers. The grants recognise UC as a world-class research-led teaching and learning university.

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