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Professor Clive Ronson to be Head of Department

Professor Clive Ronson has accepted the role of Head of Department of Microbiology and Immunology, as of 1 October.

Clive Ronson

He replaces Professor Vernon Ward, who will be taking up the position of Dean of the Otago School of Medical Sciences.

Professor Ronson says he is proud to be taking on a department that is strong in both research and teaching and has excellent morale.

“Our department is in great shape thanks to the efforts of all the staff and students that have been involved in recent years. We’re doing important research that’s at the cutting edge internationally as well as being relevant to New Zealand’s needs, and we have a good record in teaching. The challenge is to continue this upward trajectory.”

One major area that he has highlighted as a priority for his 5-year term as Head of Department is strengthening the department’s capabilities in medical microbiology.

Professor Ronson’s own research area is the plant-microbe interactions that are involved in symbiotic nitrogen fixation, and the role of horizontal gene transfer in microbial evolution. He is an international authority on Rhizobium genetics and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand. He has been with the department since 1991.

Posted by Jo Cramond on 25/09/2014 at 1:00 AM

Fineran Lab awarded Dean's Bequest funding

Congratulations to Dr Peter Fineran, Raymond Staals (Post-doctoral Fellow) and Hannah Hampton (PhD student) who have been awarded $15,500 from the University of Otago's Dean’s Bequest Funds for their research project entitled Mode of action of a widespread toxin-antitoxin bacteriophage resistance system.

Project description

We are surrounded and massively outnumbered by bacteria. Most bacteria are highly beneficial and essential to the environment, ecosystem functions and thus human existence. Even more abundant are bacteriophages, which are viruses that specifically infect bacteria. For example, an estimated 1025 bacteriophage infections occur every second, affecting global nutrient cycles. Bacteria have evolved mechanisms to thwart these invaders, which includes ‘innate immune systems’, such as abortive infection / toxin-antitoxin systems.

Toxin Distribution

Following bacteriophage infection, abortive infection and toxin-antitoxin systems elicit a ‘programmed cell death’ that impedes bacteriophage replication and provides population protection by limiting bacteriophage spread. There are currently >20 known abortive infection systems and, with the exception of a few, the molecular basis for bacteriophage resistance is unclear.

We have discovered a two-protein system from Lactococcus lactis, Streptococcus agalactiae and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which functions via a toxin-antitoxin mechanism. These systems are widespread, found in thousands of sequenced bacterial strains, yet how they work is unknown. In these toxin-antitoxin systems, one protein is toxic to the cell while the other protein protects the cell from this toxicity. Interestingly, the toxin possesses a biochemical activity not previously characterised. We will use a variety of complementary techniques to determine the mode of action and cellular target of this widespread family of toxins in order to understand how they can elicit cell suicide and hence provide bacteriophage resistance.

Read more about Fineran Lab research


Posted by Jo Cramond on 23/09/2014 at 1:00 AM

Professor Gerald Tannock receives Government funding for infant formula project

Professor Tannock has received $1,000,000 in funding over two years to develop products for infant formula that closely simulate the action of Human Milk Oligosaccharides, boosting the abundance of bifidobacteria in the gut.

It is one of six innovative University of Otago-led projects being supported through the ‘health and society’, ‘high-value manufacturing and services’, and ‘biological industries’ funds administered by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment.

The funding will allow the Tannock Lab to determine whether the effects seen in laboratory experiments can be validated in animal experiments, as well as testing the safety and acceptability of the products for human consumption.

Read the press release on the University of Otago website

Posted by Jo Cramond on 12/09/2014 at 1:00 AM

Dr Michelle McConnell interviewed on ‘Our Changing World’

Dr Michelle McConnell featured on this week’s episode of Our Changing World, Radio New Zealand’s science programme, in a story covering a collaborative project with the Department of Pharmacy that is exploring the use of wine industry waste products for medical dressings and meat wraps.

The polyphenols found in grape seeds and skins have been shown to have antibacterial properties, so may assist with healing and preservation when incorporated into nano-fibre fabric.

Listen to the broadcast on the Radio New Zealand website

Read more about the research in the University of Otago magazine

Posted by Jo Cramond on 5/09/2014 at 1:00 AM