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Otago scientist wins prestigious research fellowship

Students on the steps of the Information Services Building

Friday, 30 September 2011 11:50am

Gregory Cook
Professor Greg Cook

University of Otago microbiologist Professor Greg Cook has been awarded a prestigious James Cook Research Fellowship to pursue research involving bacteria that thrive in extreme environments.

The fellowship, valued at $110,000 per year for two years, will allow Professor Cook to focus on a project investigating the molecular biology of ‘extremophile’ bacteria. This work may lead to future drugs to fight other bacteria, such as one responsible for tuberculosis (TB) in humans.

The research involves studying the molecular mechanisms by which bacteria convert their food into ATP, the energy-rich compound that powers cells. He will seek to solve the structure of ATP synthase, a highly complex nanomolecular machine within cells that is responsible for synthesizing ATP.

The work has implications for the never-ending struggle against TB drug resistance as a unique class of drugs has been recently discovered that targets ATP synthase in the main TB bacterium infecting humans.

Solving the structure of ATP synthase is essential to understanding exactly how these new drugs interact with it. As resistance to ATP synthase-targeting compounds inevitably develops, the information that Professor Cook hopes to gain would enable improved compounds to be produced through structure-based drug design.

James Cook Research Fellowships are administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand on behalf of the Government and are awarded to researchers who demonstrate that they have achieved national and international recognition in their area of scientific research.

They allow top researchers to undertake concentrated work in their fields of expertise, and are funded by the Government and administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Professor Cook’s fellowship starts early in 2012.