[25-01-2009 to 30-04-2009]
New £1m BBSRC Award
Professor Malcolm White of the School of Biology, in collaboration with Jim Naismith of the School of Chemistry, has been awarded a £1 million BBSRC project grant. The research project titled "The CRISPR system: a new frontier of prokaryotic molecular biology" will fund the study of an RNAi-like viral defence system discovered recently in prokaryotes.
The battle between viruses and the cells they attempt to infect and subvert is one of the main driving forces in molecular evolution. Eukaryotes, including humans, use a system called the RNA interference (RNAi) pathway to target infecting viral RNA. In the recent years a version of this system has been found in prokaryotes (i.e. organisms such as bacteria and archaea). The prokaryote defence uses a method of incorporating invading viral DNA into molecular sequences called 'CRISPRs' . It is known that using this method can confer immunity against future viral infection.
A number of proteins are thought to be responsible for managing the function of this 'CRISPR' system, but the functions of these proteins are not clearly understood, and this is the focus of the new grant.
As well as providing fundamental new insights into prokaryotic biology, the work may lead to new methods to manipulate the genomes of useful organisms (synthetic biology) or to treatments for important microbial pathogens.
Image: Cas2 a protein which is thought to act as a nuclease targetting viral RNA
contact: Prof Malcolm White