Researchers at the University of Adelaide and the Pasteur Institute in France are creating biological factories within cells to make and detect molecules for a wide range of uses in health, environmental monitoring and industry.
Synthetic biology—the application of engineering principles to build new biological parts, circuits and devices—has been used to build tumour-killing bacteria, for example, and has great potential for green chemistry that uses fermentation rather than petrochemicals.
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.
An accidental discovery by Melbourne researchers has revealed the purpose of ‘mystery’ immune cells in the gut, shown how our immune system interacts with the complex bacteria ecology found there, and opened new paths for drug discovery.
Our guts, lungs and mouths are lined with mysterious immune cells that make up to 10 per cent of the T cells in our immune system. These immune cells, known as mucosal-associated invariant T cells (MAITs), detect reactive intermediates in the synthesis of vitamin B2 (riboflavin) that is made by many invasive bacteria and fungi.
Dr Tracy Ainsworth’s research is changing our understanding of the tiny coral animals that built Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef. Tracy and her colleagues at James Cook University in Townsville have found that the process of coral bleaching is a far more complex than previously thought, and begins at temperatures lower than previously considered. And she’s done so by applying skills in modern cell biology which she picked up working in neuroscience laboratories.
Her achievements won her a $20,000 L’Oréal Australia For Women in Science Fellowship in 2011, which she is using to study the low light, deep water reefs that underlie tropical surface reefs at depths of 100 metres or more. Continue reading The complex life of coral→
Neutrons and native frogs are an unlikely but dynamic duo in the battle against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, commonly known as superbugs, recent research has shown.
The skin secretions of the Australian green-eyed and growling grass frogs contain peptides (small proteins) that help frogs fight infection. Researchers hope these peptides will offer a new line of defence against a range of human bacterial pathogens, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Continue reading Frog peptides versus superbugs→
Melbourne dental health researchers have discovered a painless, low-cost treatment which may prevent gum disease.
And the key ingredients—protein fragments known as peptides—come from cows’ milk.
The link between the peptides and gum disease was forged at the Melbourne Dental School node of the Oral Health Cooperative Research Centre by Dr Elena Toh. “This could provide a cheap and simple way to help prevent gum disease,” she says. “And because the peptides are derived from milk, there should be no toxicity issues.” Continue reading Milk could soothe the savage gum→
Cells involved in the first line of our immune defence have been located where they never have been found before—a discovery that could provide insight into diseases like psoriasis and other auto-immune conditions of the skin.
While researchers have known about these cells, called gamma delta T cells in the epidermis or top layer of skin for more than 20 years, this is the first time their presence has been detected in the next layer of skin down, the dermis.
Wolfgang Weninger, who led the study at Sydney’s Centenary Institute, says that gamma delta T cells are of particular interest because they produce a protein thought to be the ‘first responder’ when intruders are detected by the immune system.
Imagine printing your own room lighting, lasers, or solar cells from inks you buy at the local newsagent. Jacek Jasieniak and colleagues at CSIRO, the University of Melbourne and the University of Padua in Italy, have developed liquid inks based on quantum dots that can be used to print such devices and in the first demonstration of their technology have produced tiny lasers. Quantum dots are made of semiconductor material grown as nanometre-sized crystals, around a millionth of a millimetre in diameter. The laser colour they produce can be selectively tuned by varying their size.
High tech cling wraps that ‘sieve out’ carbon dioxide from waste gases can help save the world, says Melbourne University chemical engineer, Colin Scholes who developed the technology. The membranes can be fitted to existing chimneys where they capture CO2 for removal and storage. Not only are the new membranes efficient, they are also relatively cheap to produce. They are already being tested on brown coal power stations in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley, Colin says. “We are hoping these membranes will cut emissions from power stations by up to 90 per cent.”
Ocean acidification, caused by increasing amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide dissolving in the ocean, poses a serious threat to marine ecosystems.
Increasing acidity affects the ability of some planktonic organisms to form shells, and is expected to change the species composition of plankton, with flow-on effects to higher levels of the food web.