Could your lab have the next antibiotic?

Could your newly synthesised molecule kill a superbug? Matt Cooper can tell you.

His team is offering a free screening service for the world’s chemists to test their compounds against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, helping them to potentially find a new antibiotic that will fight the rise of these ‘superbugs’.

“We’re helping the community unlock the hidden value of these chemicals,” says Matt, whose team is from the Community for Open Antimicrobial Drug Discovery (CO-ADD), a not-for-profit, global initiative of The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience. The screening began in February 2015, and Matt has already received thousands of samples from locations including India, Singapore, New Zealand, France, Israel, UK and the USA.

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Insulin in a plant seed

An edible plant seed could deliver your insulin or cancer drugs if David Craik’s research progresses as hoped. His team’s work at The University of Queensland’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience centres on cyclotides, which are a family of exceptionally stable circular proteins that occur naturally in many plants, such as violets and petunia.

Circular proteins naturally occuring in plants such as petunia have inspired David Craik’s research. Credit: The University of Queensland

Inspired by the stability and diversity of natural cyclotides, David’s team has developed a way to join the two ends of a linear protein, allowing them to create ‘designer’ cyclotides that can be incorporated into crop plants, turning them into production factories for therapeutic drugs and insecticides.

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Solving rare disease mysteries

Dr Elena Tucker, geneticist, Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, Melbourne

Dr Elena Tucker (credit: L’Oréal Australia)
Dr Elena Tucker (credit: L’Oréal Australia)

Dr Elena Tucker has brought peace of mind to families affected by rare energy disorders. She’s found genes responsible for some of these diseases.

Now, with the support of her 2014 L’Oréal For Women in Science Fellowship, she will look at hundreds of individual genomes to determine the causes of sex-determination disorders.

For the thousands of families affected by these rare disorders Elena’s work provides an understanding of the causes and opens a path to management and to potential treatments one day. And the techniques she’s developing underpin the broader development of personalised medicine.

For her PhD, Elena used high-throughput DNA sequencing to investigate the genetics of mitochondrial disease. Mitochondria are the membranous structures in the cell where food is converted into the energy that powers our bodies. Anything that disables them, such as the mutation of a gene, robs the body of the energy it needs to function. This can lead to symptoms such as seizures, muscle weakness, developmental delays, liver dysfunction, heart failure or blindness.

Elena discovered four genes, and helped in finding an additional four, within which mutations have a direct link to such conditions. This has accounted for a significant proportion of new genetic diagnoses of mitochondrial disease.

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