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Queen's University Belfast


Alesandro Busetti

Alesandro Busetti [email:- Abusetti01@qub.ac.uk]

Project title

Isolation and identification of marine-derived anti-biofilm agents for medical device applications

Supervision Team

Dr Brendan Gilmore, Prof. Christine Maggs and Prof. Sean Gorman

Overview

It is estimated that 65-80% of all infections are caused by biofilms, highly organised surface-associated microbial communities embedded in an exopolymeric matrix. Within the nosocomial environment, microbial biofilms are responsible for persistent, chronic, recurrent, device-related and catheter-related bloodstream infections, some with high mortality rates, and costing nations billions in health care. Microbial biofilm-related infections are difficult to treat due to their elevated resistance to conventional treatment with antibiotics and their capacity to escape detection by host immune defence systems. Quorum sensing inhibition (QSI) compounds isolated from several marine organisms seem to suggest that QSI may represent a natural, widespread, “antimicrobial” strategy utilized by marine organisms with significant impact on biofilm formation, making the marine ecosystems an ideal source for the discovery of QS inhibitors with potential use as non-antipathogenic compounds.

Overall project aims

The project aims to identify marine microbes and marine eukaryotes (e.g. algae) that produce anti-biofilm and anti-fouling compounds. This will involve the identification and characterisation of candidate microorganisms, algae and metagenomic clones (constructed from algal symbionts) with anti-biofilm and anti-fouling activity. In addition marine organisms that produce quorum sensing inhibitors (QSI) will also be targeted.  

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Kathryn Fee

Kathryn Fee [email:- kfee03@qub.ac.uk]

Project title

Development of marine-derived biomaterials for bone tissue engineering applications

Supervision Team

Prof. Frazer Buchanan, Dr Nicholas Dunne, Prof. Christine Maggs and Dr Susan Clarke.

Overview

Calcium phosphate (CaP) ceramics, in particular hydroxyapatite, are well-established substitutes for bone tissue engineering applications. CaP ceramics with their excellent biocompatibility are potential alternatives to autogenous bone, xenograft or allograft materials. To ensure adequate sustainability of supply and predictable performance, there is a need for the development of chemically synthesised materials with reproducible structures and chemical composition.  CaPs derived from natural sources have previously been utilised due to their unique morphology but the harvesting of coral reefs is considered non-sustainable and can have a detrimental impact on marine ecology. Recent studies have investigated the use of mineralised red algae, as an alternative to coral. A successful low-pressure hydrothermal exchange has been developed to convert red algae into hydroxyapatite whilst maintaining the original morphology.  This project work will initially focus on coccoliths as the calcareous material, to establish their potential to be converted into hydroxyapatite particles suitable for bone tissue engineering. The shields of the individual coccoliths overlap forming a robust structure, known as the coccosphere.

Overall project aims

The project aims to obtain sufficient quantities of coccoliths, and determine the potential of converting calcium carbonate coccoliths into a biphasic CaP ceramic by way of ambient pressure, low temperature hydrothermal synthesis. The project will also determine whether microparticles of hydroxyapatite are useful to enable the release of ions into solution, to activate bone cells by increasing bioactivity. Finally the project will explore the potential for these biocompatible particles to interlock and thereby form a microporous filler with cohesive strength.

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Julianne Megaw

Julianne Megaw  [email:- jmegaw01@qub.ac.uk]

Project title

Limits of cell function & stress responses of marine microbes: biotechnological applications

Supervision team

Dr John Hallsworth, Dr Brendan Gilmore

Overview

This project will focus on marine microbes, especially extremophilic species, from diverse marine habitats (including those not previously studied). A culture collection will be made of these species, and studies performed on their stress tolerance & responses alongside model species in order to select metabolically/ ecophysiologically novel strains. The stress metabolism of these strains will be manipulated in order to characterise their biochemical/ phenotypic potential. This information will then be employed to ‘mine’ their global cellular responses for pharmaceutically & biotechnologically useful products.

Overall project aims

This project aims to sample and screen geographically and physicochemically diverse marine environments (slitch, and ancient salt deposits) for stress-tolerant microbes using diverse culturing strategies (chao- and kosmotropic media, low water activity etc); to isolate, screen for and identify exceptionally stress-tolerant strains via comparisons with know marine extremophiles and to make a culture collection of new strains. The stress-tolerance phenotypes of the most stress-tolerant strains will be characterised over a matrix of diverse stress parameters, including biotech-relevant stress parameters. To manipulate the stress metabolism of some of these strains in order to characterise their biochemical/ phenotypic potential and use this information to ‘mine’ their global cellular responses for pharmaceutically & biotechnologically useful products. Screens will be carried out for antimicrobial activity using a range of model pathogens, for antibiofilm activity and for other pharmaceutically relevant activities.

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Christine Morrow

Christine Morrow [email:- christinemorrow@gmail.com]

Project title

Morphological and molecular systematics of sponges

Supervision team

Prof. Christine Maggs, Dr Jim Provan, Dr Julia Sigwart, Dr Louise Allcock

Overview

Molecular systematics of sponges in Ireland is still poorly known, with numerous taxonomic, phylogenetic and nomenclatural problems.  There are likely to be many more species than are currently recognized, including cryptic species, providing potential opportunities for biodiscovery.  In the order Hadromerida (which molecular evidence suggests is likely to be polyphyletic or paraphyletic), the family Polymastiidae contains a number of undescribed species in Irish waters, which have little variation in spicule characters. It is probable that some species currently attributed to the genus Polymastia really belong to the genus Sphaerotylus, plus there are two undescribed probable Sphaerotylus species in Ireland. Molecular systematics is the appropriate tool to investigate these observations as the spicules and skeletal architecture are relatively uniform throughout the family. Within the Poecilosclerida, the family Raspailiidae has no chelae, but all other families are characterised by this type of spicule. Previous classifications have suggested that the Raspailiidae are more closely related to the Axinellidae which share a number of characters. The Hemiasterellidae, currently in with Hadromerids, were formerly in the order Axinellida (now abandoned). DNA sequencing data should contribute to the resolution of current controversy over placement of these families.

Overall project aims

This project aims to catalogue all type material relevant to Irish sponge species and prepare slide preparations of them and to sample at  known hotspots of sponge biodiversity in Ireland, particularly at Lough Hyne and Rathlin Island.  A database of collaborators will be compiled who will supply taxa required for dense and appropriate taxon sampling from elsewhere.  To obtain relevant samples worldwide for phylogenetic studies and to compare the morphology and molecular systematics of sponge samples from Ireland and worldwide.

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Contact Information

c.maggs@qub.ac.uk

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