Dr. Alan C. Leonard, professor of biological sciences, and Dr. Julia Grimwade, associate professor of biological sciences, were awarded the funding, which furthers their efforts to understand the genetic switches that trigger the reproduction of the bacterium Escherichia coli.
"One of the fundamental problems in biology is to understand how cell growth is regulated," said Leonard. "We think of the inner workings of the cell as machinery and some of the machines need to be switched on at a specific time for the cell to reproduce" Studies in the Leonard/Grimwade laboratories have led to the identification of key pieces of the switch. Understanding their role will shed new light on controlling bacterial growth and perhaps aid in the understanding of abnormal cell growth seen in cancer.
An ultimate goal of the Leonard and Grimwade's research is to use the information obtained from studies of bacterial cell growth to produce inhibitors--novel antibiotics--that would enter the bacteria and prevent critical switch components from completing their interactions. This would impact a variety of human diseases caused by pathogenic bacteria.
"At Florida Tech we have grown into one of the world's leading laboratories for the study of cell growth," said Leonard. "Our work combines studies of living bacteria with biochemical studies of purified cellular components interacting in a test tube. Test tube studies are easier to perform, but don't always reflect real life. Our advantage is that we have developed unique methods to evaluate what is actually happening inside a living cell to prove the validity of our biochemical measurements and the measurements made in other laboratories."