Posted on August 8, 2017

E. coli bacterium. Photo: NUI Galway

E. coli bacterium. Photo: NUI Galway


NUI Galway has embarked on a new European project, PATHSENSE (Pathogen Sensing) Training Network, which has been funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation MSCA programme. The overall goal of the project is to identify vulnerabilities in pathogenic bacteria (bacteria that can cause infection) that can be targeted with next generation antimicrobial treatments to inhibit the growth of bacteria.

The PATHSENSE European Training Network, which secured €3.4 million to undertake this work, will investigate the mechanisms that bacterial pathogens use to sense their environment. The objective is to focus on understanding a highly sophisticated but poorly understood sensory organelle in bacteria called the ‘stressosome’, which in some respects is like a miniature brain for processing sensory inputs. The stressosome allows bacteria to detect and respond to the conditions they encounter in their environment, which helps them to survive when conditions become unfavourable. The project will explore the relationships between structure and function that exist in this structure with the long-term aim of blocking its function.

The research programme will be led and coordinated by Dr Conor O’Byrne, Lecturer in Microbiology in the School of Natural Sciences at NUI Galway, and will collaborate with eight universities and four companies, located in seven different countries around Europe. Dr O’ Byrne recently received an Ireland’s Champions of EU award from Enterprise Ireland in the category ‘Recognising the career development of our next generation researchers’, for his leadership of the PATHSENSE project.

Dr Conor O’Byrne explains: “Rapid and sensitive systems to sense and respond to environmental changes are a cornerstone of a bacterium’s survival apparatus, and if we understood how these systems worked then we could design drugs to block them and this should help to kill the bacteria. Imagine if you deprived someone of their sense of hearing, smell and vision and then placed them into a crowded city, they would find it pretty difficult to survive. This is what we aim to do with these bacterial pathogens, with the goal of reducing their chance of survival and ultimately preventing infections in humans.”

The team participating in the PATHSENSE Network met recently in Amsterdam and plan to recruit 13 researchers who will each embark on a PhD degree. Researchers will be trained in state-of-the-art methodologies, including structural biology, proteomics and protein biochemistry, molecular biology, bacterial genetics, food microbiology, mathematical modelling, cell biology, microscopy and comparative genomics.

A major long-term objective of this Network will be to develop new antimicrobial treatments that target the sensory apparatus of bacteria, preventing them from protecting themselves and thereby reducing their survival. These antimicrobials will have applications in the food and public health sectors.

The PATHSENSE project team led by NUI Galway will include multinational giant Nestle, and leading European Universities (University of Cambridge, University of Dundee and University of Newcastle in the UK, University of Regensburg and University of Greifswald in Germany, University of Umea in Sweden, University of Groningen in The Netherlands and the National Centre for Biotechnology in Madrid). Partner companies include NATAC Biotech Spain, Nizo Food Research, The Netherlands, Aquila Biosciences, Galway, Ireland, and the Food Safety Authority of Ireland.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 721456.

Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway

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