Wellcome Senior Research Fellowship renewal for Sarah Coulthurst

Published on 11 June 2020

Dr Sarah Coulthurst, deputy head of the Division of Molecular Microbiology, has had her Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellowship renewed for a further five years.

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The £1.9 million award will allow Sarah and her team to continue their ongoing work to understand how bacteria can use a weapon known as the ‘Type VI secretion system’ to effectively kill or disable other competitor bacteria. 

Infectious diseases caused by bacteria continue to represent a major global health issue, exacerbated by ever-increasing antibiotic resistance. The World Health Organisation (WHO) state that ‘antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health’ with wide ranging levels of resistance found in people across the world to many of the most common antibiotics. This resistance leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality. Antibiotic resistance occurs naturally, but misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals is accelerating the process.

Understanding how bacteria live and function is critical to trying to combat antibacterial resistance. Bacteria normally live in mixed communities and compete with each other by actively killing their rivals. This ability to compete is important for both the success of pathogenic bacteria and the stability of health-promoting bacterial communities. Importantly, studying this fight for success may also provide us with new clues as to how we can kill or disable bacterial cells.

Sarah explained, “In this project, we will study a bacterial weapon called the Type VI secretion system (T6SS), which many bacteria use to fire toxins (called ‘effectors’) into competitors. We will use molecular approaches to learn how the T6SS can deliver many different toxins, what happens to toxins inside recipient cells, and how new toxins work to kill bacterial cells. Additionally, we will use genomics to detect ‘arms races’ between bacteria as they pick up new toxins and to understand the importance of T6SS in disease.”

The work funded by this new award should reveal new aspects of bacterial biology and contribute towards future anti-bacterial therapies.

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