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Molecular mechanism of bacterial electrical signalling

Principal Supervisor: Dr Munehiro Asally

Secondary Supervisor(s): Professor Nick Dale

University of Registration: University of Warwick

BBSRC Research Themes: Understanding the Rules of Life (Microbiology, Systems Biology)

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Deadline: 4 January, 2024


Project Outline

Background

Recent publications in high-impact journals indicate growing interest in bacterial electrophysiology (1–4). Studies, including by our group, have shown that bacterial membrane potential can exhibit non-linear spiking and rhythmic oscillations which function as bioelectrical signals during antibiotic exposure, cellular differentiation and biofilm formation (5).

Bacterial electrophysiology is an exciting cutting-edge research topic that holds a potential to become a novel bioelectrical paradigm to understanding and engineering of biology. It could provide new bioelectrical approaches to address important societal challenges, such as biofilms and antibiotic resistance.

However, bacterial electrophysiology is still a largely uncharted territory in science, and little is known about their molecular, cellular and biophysical mechanisms.

Project Aim

This PhD project aims to gain molecular and biophysical insights to bacterial electrophysiology by patch clamp assay of bacterial ion channels. Focusing on the model Gram-positive bacterium Bacillus subtilis, we have identified 25 putative ion channel genes by a bioinformatic analysis. You will characterise the roles of ion channels in B. subtilis cells using mutant strains. In particular, you will systematically characterise biofilm formation, spore formation, antibiotic susceptibility and growth rate of the deletion mutant strains. For the ion channels that show interesting phenotypes, you will perform electrophysiological assays to characterise their biophysical properties.

Methods

The project will provide an interdisciplinary training opportunity for developing experimental and analytical skills in biophysics, neuroscience and microbiology. The key methods to be used include molecular biology, patch clamp, microbiology, fluorescence microscopy, computational modelling, and quantitative image analysis (using Python and imageJ). The project offers an aspiring student the chance to pioneer the field of bacterial electrophysiology and bioelectricity.

References

  1. K. Kikuchi, et al., Electrochemical potential enables dormant spores to integrate environmental signals. Science (80-. ). 378, 43–49 (2022).
  2. A. Prindle, et al., Ion channels enable electrical communication in bacterial communities. Nature 527, 59–63 (2015).
  3. X. Jin, et al., Sensitive bacterial V m sensors revealed the excitability of bacterial V m and its role in antibiotic tolerance. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 120, 2017 (2023).
  4. J. P. Stratford, et al., Electrically induced bacterial membrane-potential dynamics correspond to cellular proliferation capacity. PNAS 116, 9552–9557 (2019).
  5. J. M. Benarroch, M. Asally, The Microbiologist’s Guide to Membrane Potential Dynamics. Trends Microbiol. 28, 304–314 (2020).

Techniques

  • Molecular cloning
  • Time-lapse Fluorescence microscopy
  • Patch clamp
  • Plate reader assays
  • Biofilm assay
  • Sporulation assay
  • Quantitative image analysis
  • Computational modelling