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Dr Peter Fineran awarded Marsden funding for bacterial adaptive immunity research

Posted by on 4 November 2014 | Comments

Congratulations to the department's Dr Peter Fineran, who has been awarded a significant grant in this year's Marsden funding round.

Dr Fineran has received $773,000 for the project entitled Primed for action: bacterial adaptive immunity.

This year, University of Otago researchers gained more than $13.9M in new government funding to pursue 22 world-class research projects at the forefront of their disciplines - about a quarter of the total funding on offer.

Project summary

The interactions between bacteria and their 'parasites', such as viruses and plasmids, underpin global nutrient cycles, the evolution of pathogens and antibiotic resistance. Bacteria and archaea protect themselves using an adaptive immune system, termed CRISPR-Cas, which has a sequence-specific genetic memory of previous invaders. This memory produces short interfering RNAs that specifically target and destroy invaders. Recently, CRISPR-Cas systems have revolutionised precision genome editing and have, for example, enabled the correction of genetic defects in adult mice. Despite this stunning technological advance, fundamental knowledge is lacking about how memories are derived from invaders. We recently showed that the memory formation process is very robust, and capable of rapidly eliciting new protective memories when facing invaders that were heavily mutated following previous encounters. Exactly how these memories with partial recognition stimulate new memory formation is unknown. We have developed a CRISPR bioinformatic suite to enable accurate identification of the genetic memories and their targets. Using these tools, and our highly active experimental system, we will test our mechanistic model of rapid memory generation and determine if this process is universal to multiple CRISPR-Cas systems. Understanding these systems will have broad implications for biotechnology and prokaryotic evolution.

Associate Investigators: Dr Stan Brouns (University of Wageningen), Dr Chris Brown (Biochemistry)

Read the press release on the University of Otago website

Read more about Fineran Lab research