News - October 2012

£940,000 grant awarded to shape new study of microbes

26 October 2012

A new study led by a scientist at the University of Hull has won funding to show how tiny organisms such as microbes and bacteria use their shape to adapt and survive.

Stuart Humphries

Dr Stuart Humphries, a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences, has been awarded a prestigious Research Leadership Award by the Leverhulme Trust of more than £940,000 to study how the shape of important microbes such as bacteria and plankton influence both their lives and ours.

Understanding why bacteria and other microbes display such a wide range of shapes will enable us to understand how they interact with their environment to produce disease, provide us with beneficial products, and how they interact with other organisms to keep key ecosystems working.

< Dr Stuart Humphries

Dr Humphries said: “Despite their impact on our lives we still have no real idea of why microorganisms look the way they do. In the microscopic realm, things we take for granted, such as gravity, are less important, and other constraints affect microbe shape.

“The Leverhulme Trust Award will be used to build up an interdisciplinary group of experimental and evolutionary biologists, mathematicians and engineers to change our outlook on how and why microorganisms survive and flourish.”

Professor John Hay, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise, said: “We are delighted with this award from Leverhulme, which will allow us to make significant strides in this important research area. It links into two of the major themes we are focussing on; health and wellbeing, and energy and environment, and attracting this funding illustrates the strength and ability of the University of Hull to carry out such high-level research.”

This grant will enable Dr Humphries to expand his group and fund four extended postdoctoral positions and a PhD student across a five-year period. The group will build on international collaborations with the lab of Professor Susanne Menden-Deuer at the University of Rhode Island.

The results of this programme of work will contribute to our understanding of cultural and industrial problems in areas such as applied microbial ecology, biosecurity, medical microbiology, and ocean ecosystems.

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