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Using TB to understand communication within proteins

Posted: Thu, 3 Nov 2016

Tuberculosis (TB) is a major worldwide health issue. It kills approximately 1.3 million people each year, despite TB vaccines and drug treatments having existed for over 45 years. Limitations in current TB treatments, along with drug resistance, suggest the need for new anti-TB treatments. In New Zealand, TB has a long history of being a significant health burden on Māori, who make up over 50% of the New Zealand-borne cases.

Dr Jodie Johnston and Dr Ghader Bashiri, along with a team of young researchers at the Universities of Auckland and Canterbury, are investigating a key enzyme vital to the survival of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacterium that causes TB. The enzyme (MenD), is essential to many bacteria and displays protein cooperativity. Cooperativity (where molecules bind to a protein, affecting its activity at a different site) offers ways for proteins to alter their functions and influence how organisms adapt to environmental changes, and is therefore a crucial phenomenon that underpins life.

The research team will investigate the cooperative behaviour of MenD as a model system to unravel the underlying communication networks. They will use a multidisciplinary approach including molecular biology, biophysics, structural biology, and computer simulations, to build a picture of the different factors that underlie communication.

This project will enhance understanding of protein cooperativity and provide insight into how a vital enzyme from a human pathogen is regulated. It will also build a knowledge base for future drug design and protein engineering efforts.


Total Funding: $870,000 (excl. GST) over 3 years

Researchers: Dr Jodie Johnston, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Victoria Street West, Auckland 1142