NSW researchers have been awarded international funding to investigate antimicrobial resistance and how superbugs evolve.
The University of Wollongong (UOW) has been granted $1.5 million by the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) to examine how bacteria copy and repair their DNA at the level of single cells.
The five-year study forms a collaboration with researchers from the University of Wisconsin and the University of Southern California.
The UOW Molecular Horizons Institute’s contribution to the project involves single-molecule visualisation of DNA replication, the process by which bacteria copy their DNA just before they divide, and which bacteria use to repair DNA damaged by external factors such as antibiotic drugs.
Investigation of these processes will provide knowledge on how bacteria deal with damaged DNA, and reveal how these processes might work in humans to help further explain the causes of ageing and the development of tumours, UOW’s Professor Antoine van Oijen said.
“Seeing is believing, so being able to see how proteins inside bacterial cells interact and work together in their ability to repair and copy DNA is an amazingly powerful way of understanding how they function and how we might interfere with them to cure disease.”
An important goal of the project is understanding how bacteria deal with DNA that is temporarily not in the form of the double-stranded helix, but locally only has a single strand.
This single-stranded DNA is a form that appears briefly when the DNA is copied or repaired and is much more sensitive to mutations being introduced, UOW researcher Dr Andrew Robinson said.
“When the bacteria convert single-stranded DNA back into double-stranded DNA there is increased risk of mutations creeping into the DNA. Those mutations could lead to resistance against antibiotics, so it’s important to understand how bacteria deal with those single-stranded gaps.”
The UOW part of the project will bring together more than 40 research groups with expertise in biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, biophysics and medicine to investigate molecular structure and function.