Prestigious Horizon Europe funding award to accelerate innovative research in antibiotic-producing bacteria

Dr Susan Schlimpert and her team have been awarded European funding to take forward their innovative research into the antibiotics of the future. Dr Schlimpert, a group leader at the John Innes Centre, receives a European Research Council consolidator grant, part of the EU’s Horizon Europe programme.

The award for the project, “Functional Diversity of Bacterial NLRs in Multicellular Bacteria” (BacNLR), is one of 308 Consolidator Grants announced by the ERC, the winning entries emerging from a field of 2,130 candidates.

The Schlimpert group investigates molecular mechanisms that underpin the lifecycle of Streptomyces bacteria, producers of more than 50% of all clinically used antibiotics. “I am delighted and very excited to receive this prestigious funding which will enable us to establish a new line of research in the lab to provide a holistic understanding of the biology of Streptomyces.” she said.

BacNLR is an ambitious research project that aims to uncover the diverse functions of a group of proteins called nucleotide-binding oligomerization domain-like receptors (NLRs) in bacteria.

NLRs play important roles in the immune system of plants, humans, and animals but their existence in bacteria has only recently been recognized. Little is known about the function of these ancient proteins in bacteria.

Unlike most bacteria, species of antibiotic-producing Streptomyces encode multiple NLRs. Previous research from the Schlimpert group found that several of these NLR-like proteins are involved in the regulation of antibiotic production and development in Streptomyces.

Their hypothesis is that bacterial NLRs play a crucial and previously unexplored role in several important cellular processes, including antibiotic production, immunity, and bacterial development.

To investigate these novel roles, they have developed a method to artificially activate the function of NLR in Streptomyces, which overcomes an important technical bottleneck in investigating the activity of these proteins.

This breakthrough allows Susan’s team to study how NLRs impact antibiotic production and potentially discover additional unexpected cellular functions that go well beyond the well-established role of NLRs in eukaryotic immunity.

“We hope that our work will expand our current models about the evolution, and functional diversity of NLRs across all domains of life and reveal fundamental new principles in the regulation of antibiotic production in Streptomyces. Our project has the potential to provide an innovative strategy to improve the production of pharmaceutically important molecules to combat the rise in drug-resistant pathogens,” said Susan who is also a member of the EMBO (European Molecular Biology Organisation) Young Investigator Programme, which recognises outstanding early career group leaders.

Consolidator grants support excellent scientists and researchers at the stage of their career where they are developing their own independent research teams, normally between 7 and 12 years after receiving their PhD. Consolidator grants are worth £2m over a period of five years.

The ERC offers four core grant schemes: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants and Synergy Grants. With its additional Proof of Concept Grant scheme, the ERC helps grantees to bridge the gap between their pioneering research and early phases of its commercialisation.

The European Commission and the UK Government have reached an agreement in principle on the association of the UK to Horizon Europe. This means that the UK will be formally associated to Horizon Europe as of 1 January 2024.

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