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A CSIC study aims to identify new bacterial regulators to improve human and animal health

Technological advances in genetic sequencing uncover 'hidden' information about bacteria

Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

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Credit: CSIC

A project led by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) researcher, Alejandro Toledo-Arana, at the Institute of Agro biotechnology (a centre shared between CSIC, the Public University of Navarra and The Regional Government of Navarra), is studying new genetic regulatory mechanisms in pathogenic bacteria. According to scientists, understanding how bacteria regulate their genes will allow the long term design of compounds which manipulate bacterial processes. For example, this will involve designing new antimicrobials to fight against infections, or to improve any bacteria-based production process. The project has received a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC), valued at 1.8m euros.

"Advances in both DNA and RNA sequencing technology have allowed us to uncover more information than we had expected", indicates Toledo-Arana. In genomes, in addition to those genes which determine how many different proteins make up a living being (known as coding information), you can find some regions of the DNA which do not produce proteins and which correspond with the non-coding information present in any genome. "Now, microbiology shows us that thanks to large-scale transcriptome sequencing- the grouping of a cell's genes which are expressed at a given time in its life- we can intuit that the non-coded sequences can be just as important as the coded ones. In bacteria in particular, we have noticed that certain non-coded areas can be longer than we imagined".

Despite the large number of non-coded sequences which have been identified over the last few years, the actual functions of a great majority of them remain unknown. It has been shown that in humans, non-coded sequences are essential in the expression of certain genes, and that if mutations appear in them, they can cause illnesses. The research team led by Toledo-Arana is carrying out the study using the bacteria 'Staphylococcus aureus' as a model organism, given its importance to both public and animal health. The goal is to determine whether the control of gene expression executed by non-coded sequences in bacteria resembles that which occurs in humans.

In general, non-coded sequences take charge of controlling where and when a protein will be produced. Any failure in these control systems means whichever type of organism will not develop correctly.

The project began in September 2015 and will last for a total of five years. ERC finance programmes come under the framework of Horizon 2020, the main aim of which is to promote excellence, dynamism, and creativity in European research work. They are aimed specifically at scientists with outstanding track records in their fields to enable them to develop innovative research projects. The five categories of grants which exist are Starting Grants, Advanced Grants, Consolidator Grants, Proof of concept, and Synergy Grants.

The project, led by this CSIC researcher is entitled 'High-throughput in vivo studies on post- transcriptional regulatory mechanisms mediated by bacterial 3'-UTRs'.

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