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Predicting of Prokaryotic Defence Distributions

Project description

Dissecting bacterial immunity

To evade infection by viruses (bacteriophages), bacteria have evolved a battery of defence mechanisms. Understanding when bacteria employ each strategy is the key objective of the EU-funded PredProkDef project. Researchers will follow a multidisciplinary approach including ecology and metagenomics techniques to investigate microbial immunity. The importance of this knowledge is dual as it may be employed to protect bacteria used for example in biotechnology applications. At the same time, bacteriophages represent a therapeutic avenue to overcome the current antibiotic resistance crisis so the generated information could be exploited as an antimicrobial strategy.


Bacteria are crucial for health, nutrient cycling and biotechnology but face a constant pressure from the viruses that infect them (phages). As such, bacteria have evolved a sophisticated suite of defence mechanisms that allow them to evade phages. These defence mechanisms can be classified into two basic classes: selfish or altruistic. A selfish system protects individuals, whereas an altruistic system protects the population. Interestingly, the distribution of this defensive arsenal is uneven, with large variations in the types carried, even among closely related species. This proposal aims to understand the basis of this distribution by using a multi-disciplinary approach that combines the precision of a model laboratory system with cutting-edge metagenomics techniques.

Specifically, I will use abortive infection as a model for altruistic defence and CRISPR as a model for selfish defence and test the role of spatial structure in determining the abundance of each type. High spatial structure is predicted to be a key determinant of altruistic defences as it results in proximate bacteria being closely related. I will then apply the findings from the first objectives to classify a novel, recently discovered, defence system. Together, these results will enable researchers to better understand microbial immunity, with key consequences for industry and healthcare.

The outgoing phase will take place at the University of Otago, New Zealand, using molecular biology expertise in abortive infection and CRISPR systems. The return phase will take place at the University of Exeter, UK, benefitting from expertise in ecology and evolution. The proposed project will allow me to complement my strong background in genomics and ecology with molecular biology and novel bioinformatic approaches. By working in two world-class research laboratories I will further develop independence and a strong collaborative network for the future.




Net EU contribution
€ 272 084,16
The queen's drive northcote house
EX4 4QJ Exeter
United Kingdom

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South West (England) Devon Devon CC
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Partners (1)