Adele Williamson has just been awarded a prestigous Rutherford Discovery Fellowship for the project: In extremis: how bacteria replicate, repair and diversify their genomes in challenging environments
This research will investigate novel DNA replication and repair proteins in three bacterial systems; the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus marinus, which is the most abundant photosynthetic organism on the planet, accounting for 50% of marine photosynthetic biomass and fixing ~4Gt of CO2 per year; the infamously antibiotic-resistant pathogen Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes the disease gonorrhoea; and bacterial communities inhabiting the Martian-like Dry Valleys of Antarctica.
We will use computer algorithms to the predict DNA repair enzymes in the genomes of these super-survivor bacteria, and then we will artificially produce these enzymes in a pure form in the laboratory to test what they do. This involves determining what chemical reactions that they perform on damaged DNA and also how their 3-dimensional shapes allow them to interact with the DNA and recognize different DNA damages. To examine the specific role of the enzymes in the cell we will create genetic ‘knock-outs’ where the enzyme is eliminated, or ‘knock-ins’ where the enzyme is introduced into a mesophilic model bacterium and test how well these can survive DNA damaging conditions.