Budding yeast is an ideal model organism to study biophysical principles underlying eukaryotic cellular morphogenesis. Rather than dividing its cell in halves, this unicellular fungus proliferates by constructing every new daughter cell de-novo, on the side of mother cell. This process is an amazing example of building a cell from scratch. It starts with the establishment of a new cell polarity axis, which is physically marked by a membrane domain, presumptive bud site (PBS), whose protein-lipid composition is distinctly different from the rest of the cell. This and the whole cascade of downstream morphogenetic processes are controlled by a single master regulator – small GTPase Cdc42. Its biological activity is directly responsible for the assembly of the PBS and the following formation of the septin ring, a dense polymeric organelle that serves as the boundary between mother and daughter until they are finally split apart by cytokinesis. Septin rings are found at the cytokinetic sites of fungi, in the tails of spermatozoa as well as at the base of neural spines and eukaryotic cilia – all places where contiguous membrane has to be divided into two non-mixing domains with distinct biological properties and developmental fates. Yet, despite the utmost importance of this organelle for eukaryotic cells, molecular mechanisms responsible for the formation of these rings are not known in any system. As often before, budding yeast comes to the rescue again. In this talk I will present the results of our recent experiment-theory study aimed to unravel the mystery of septin ring emergence in budding yeast. Among others, I will answer a long-standing question: How does it become a ring in the first place?
Six second year Biosciences students started the first Kent iGem team during the summer. iGem stands for “International Genetically Engineered Machine”, and is a competition organised by the iGem organisation based in MIT, open to students working on synthetic biology projects during the summer. This year, our undergraduate iGem students worked on an environmental focused project aimed to detoxify water and soil from Nitric oxide (NOx) pollutants, and to convert pollutants to useful products using E. coli. The team presented their project idea during the UK iGem meeting in London in July, where they met other UK iGem teams as well as academic and industry experts. The team then presented their final results at the European iGem Jamboree in Lyon in France.
Congratulations to the team consisting of Kara Stubbs, David Hanly, Laura Carman, Sarah Dowie, Michael Coghlan and Rathaven Gunaratnarajah on winning a Bronze award…the hard work paid off!
Professor Catherine Abbott, School of Molecular Genetic and Population Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh
Monday 9th December 2013, 4.00 p.m., Ingram Lecture Theatre
eEF1A2 is a translation elongation factor that plays a pivotal role in protein synthesis in neurons and muscle. eEF1A is unusual in that two independently encoded isoforms with distinct tissue-specific expression patterns are found throughout vertebrate evolution; whereas eEF1A1 is expressed in all tissues throughout development, it is downregulated postnatally to undetectable levels in muscle and neurons whilst remaining at high levels in all other tissues. In muscle (skeletal and cardiac) and neurons eEF1A1 is replaced by eEF1A2, which is 92% identical and 98% similar to eEF1A1. The question of why this very specific change from one eEF1A isoform to another occurs, and the functional consequences of the switch, is of fundamental biological importance. Deletion of eEF1A2 in mice gives rise to a severe motor neuron degeneration phenotype; conversely, eEF1A2 is oncogenic when inappropriately expressed in tissues that normally express eEF1A1 only. We use comparative homology modelling, cellular assays and transgenic mice to study the roles of the two isoforms in health and disease.
Dr Jeremy Rossman, Lecturer in Virology at the School of Biosciences has been awarded £353,624 by the Medical Research Council for a New Investigator research award. The project is entitled ’Molecular mechanisms of M2-mediated influenza virus building and scission’
Jeremy, who teaches Virology to our final year students, has also recently published a review article in Annual Reviews of Cell and Developmental Biology.
The link below will take you to a recently published commentary article by Jeremy on the possibility of influenza vaccination in The Conversation:
A collaborative study involving scientists from the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the School of Biosciences at the University of Kent has uncovered how factors involved in the beginning and end phases of protein synthesis communicate with each other. Understanding the core cellular process of protein synthesis is important because its malfunctioning causes a variety of human diseases, and its targeted manipulation underpins a multi-billion dollar bioprocessing industry. The findings shed new light on the molecular processes by which cells make protein synthesis is more efficient.
Dr Tobias von der Haar, the Kent PI involved in this study, teaches Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
Paper: Beznosková, P., Cuchalová, L., Wagner, S., Shoemaker, C.J., Gunišová, S., von der Haar, T. & Valásek, L.S. (2013) Translation Initiation Factors eIF3 and HCR1 Control Translation and Stop Codon Read-Through in Yeast Cells. PLOS Genetics, 9, e1003962.
Professor Jeff Cole, School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham
Monday 2nd December 2013, 4.00 p.m., Ingram Lecture Theatre
Bacteria are exposed to NO generated as an immediate product of nitrite reduction by denitrifying bacteria, from arginine by the mammalian NO synthetase, or as a by-product during nitrate reduction to ammonia. NO binds to di-iron and iron-sulphur clusters, inactivating many enzymes including aconitase and fumarase. This seminar will demonstrate that much of the literature about how bacteria protect themselves from this damage, or repair damage that has occurred, is incorrect. The Escherichia coli transcription factors NorR and NsrR bind NO specifically, triggering responses to nitrosative stress. NsrR is a repressor of genes required for NO reduction or damage repair, including the flavohemoglobin, Hmp, the hybrid cluster protein, Hcp, and the di-iron repair protein, YtfE. Hmp is an NO oxygenase. However, enteric bacteria do not live naturally in an aerated conical flask in a laboratory, but in the essentially anaerobic environment of the GI tract. Hmp expression is repressed by FNR, implying that it is not required during anaerobic growth. In contrast, Hcp expression is activated by FNR, suggesting it is important under anaerobic conditions. Hcp contains a [4Fe-2S-2O] hybrid cluster that is so far unique in evolution. Unique structure implies unique function and gene regulation usually reflects metabolic function: evidence will be presented that Hcp, not Hmp, is the critical factor in surviving nitrosative stress in vivo.
Researchers in the Faculty of Sciences won 87 research grants, totalling £7,997,953 in 2012-2013, a sum exceeded only once in the past six years.
Professor Richard Jones, Faculty Director of Research and Enterprise congratulated the successful principal and co-researchers and said that he looked forward to hearing the outcomes of their research. The faculty has strong ambitions to achieve even higher levels of research support and its researchers have already won £3 million in research grants since August 2013.
Researchers from the School of Biosciences provided the inspiration for an exhibition that explores creative and scientific processes in response to the 30th anniversary of the invention of the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR). ‘Chain Reaction’ exhibition showcases new work created by six artists in liaison with scientists in the School of Biosciences. The artists spent time in the laboratory undertaking PCR and observing the culture within scientific laboratories. Their artistic outputs are on displain in the Sidney Cooper Gallery, St. Peter’s Street, Canterbury, from 22 November – 21 December 2013.
The image shown is part of the work by artist Sarah Craske, who used PCR to amplify genetic material isolated from daffodils for her work, ‘The Echo of Narcissus’.
Professor John Girkin, Department of Physics, Durham University
Monday 25th November 2013, 4.00 p.m., Ingram Lecture Theatre
Since its invention around 400 years ago optical microscopy has played a crucial role in biology, as observation is the key component of all science. In many cases the ultimate test is to observe sub-cellular events in vivo and this clearly creates challenges; namely sample movement and the distortion of the images as one observes ever more deeply within the sample. This presentation will explore the recent advances in imaging methods to overcome these issues both within plants and live Zebrafish. Work will be presented in which live beating Zebrafish hearts have been imaged in real time with micron resolution through novel methods of optical gating. Using a single plane illumination microscope combined with adaptive optics (more normally used in optical telescopes) we have been able to image at depth within a range of live samples with both high spatial and temporal resolution. Work using optical tweezers and novel high-speed cameras to measure the local rheology (viscosity) within live cells and inter-cellular forces will also be shown. Recent results will be discussed and the potential application of the methods to sub-diffraction microscopy will be examined in detail indicating where the next advances in optical microscopy may come from.
Professor Girkin is Professor of Biophysics at Durham University and Director of the Biophysical Sciences Institute in Durham. He moved to Durham in 2009 to take up this role having previously founded the Centre for Biophotonics at Strathclyde University, Glasgow where he was one of the first leaders at the Institute of Photonics. Originally trained as a physicist at Oxford and with a PhD from Southampton University (in Laser Spectroscopy of Atomic Hydrogen) he worked for ten years in industry including developing the world’s first diode laser retinal photocoagulator and diode pumped Nd:Yag laser. His research focuses on the development of novel optical instrumentation to help solve challenges within the life science. This work has ranged from pioneering the use of adaptive optics in microscopy, building a desk-top genotyping device (identifying specific SNPs inside 14 minutes from saliva), micro-fluidic chemical monitoring, ophthalmic drug delivery through to early dental diagnosis which is currently being explored for commercialisation.
Bioscientists from the University of Kent and staff and pupils from the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys in Canterbury celebrated the success of a pioneering joint project on 4 November with scientist and broadcaster Professor Sir Robert Winston.
They were attending the second annual Authentic Biology Research Symposium, which showcases a nationwide initiative – supported and hosted by the Wellcome Trust in London – which enables school pupils to take part in real research with guidance from university collaborators.
A pilot project at the Simon Langton Grammar School for Boys, under the guidance of Professor Martin Warren, Professor Mick Tuite and researchers from the University’s School of Biosciences, provided the catalyst for Authentic Biology.
The pilot Myelin Basic Protein Project (MBP2) was initiated in 2008 by Dr Dave Colthurst at Simon Langton. The success of the pilot has resulted in the subsequent broadening of the scheme, with five other schools in the UK taking part this year, having been selected by their local universities.
The Simon Langton pupils have been looking at the human protein myelin basic protein and exploring the hypothesis that modifications to this protein can affect the central nervous system, leading to symptoms seen in conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
Professor Martin Warren, Head of Kent’s School of Biosciences, said: ‘Our project working with the Simon Langton school has given its pupils first-hand experience of genetic engineering as they have investigated the human gene for MBP.
‘I’m delighted that this pioneering project has proved the catalyst for an exciting nationwide project that now involves five other schools.’
Joining the University of Kent and Simon Langton teams at the symposium were pupils from the five other secondary schools, who presented the results of their research to Professor Sir Robert Winston and University of Oxford neuroscientist Professor Russell Foster.
Authentic Biology provides a grant, made under the Wellcome Trust Society Award scheme, to each school. This allows a senior teacher and senior technician to dedicate half a day per week to their research project, as well as enabling the schools to purchase the appropriate laboratory equipment.
Dr Colthurst said: ‘What started out as a small pilot with 50 students has expanded and grown, showing the keen appetite that school pupils have for real science. Now in our fifth year, we will continue to evaluate our success and see what potential this has for becoming a more national scheme.
‘This kind of work gives A-level students a real insight into university-level science, piquing their enthusiasm for it now and equipping them with the kind of academic tools and confidence that will be invaluable in their futures.’