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The University of Southampton
Biological Sciences

Research project: Discover novel ways used by phages to strike back against bacterial defences

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This studentship is discovering and characterising novel mechanisms used by bacteriophages to counteract multiple defence systems that bacteria employ to protect against viral infection.

Viruses of bacteria and archaea, known as bacteriophages or phages, are the most abundant entities on Earth with numbers estimated at 1031. Bacteria and archaea are therefore under strong evolutionary pressure from phages in natural ecosystems, with 1025 infections thought to occur per second. To withstand phage predatory attacks, microbes have developed multiple lines of active defence, such as restriction-modification (R-M), abortive infection (Abi), and CRISPR-Cas systems. Phages have likewise developed counter-attack mechanisms to overcome these defences and efficiently infect the host cell.

Recently, a multitude of new anti-phage defence systems have been found, suggesting we are only scratching the surface of viral defence in microbes. These discoveries trigger also the question of which counter-defence mechanisms have phages evolved to overcome these newly found defence systems. While increased sequencing data support bioinformatics approaches for the discovery of phage counter-defences, the poor functional understanding of phage genes is limiting and identifies a need for high-throughput experimental techniques. These should focus on genes probably influencing bacterial immunity, such as early expressed genes which are often found to have important roles in anti-defence or bacterial takeover.

Knowledge on phage-bacteria interactions are already informing microbiology, the potential of phage-inspired therapeutics and new biotechnological tool. It is thus expectable that a mechanistic understanding of novel defence and counter-defence systems will fuel the development of many molecular biology and biotechnological tools, and importantly lead to the creation of new solutions for antibiotic resistant bacterial infections.


Franklin Nobrega (supervisor)
Jeremy Webb (co-supervisor)

PGR student: Thomas Todeschini

Funding provider: Starting funds of Franklin Nobrega
Funding dates: October 2020 – April 2024

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