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Otago researcher gains Rutherford Fellowship


Thursday 8 September 2011 3:25pm

Peter Fineran photo. A University of Otago scientist is among ten top researchers who have been awarded highly sought-after fellowships to help them develop their research careers in New Zealand.

Dr Peter Fineran of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology has received a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship, which will provide him with financial support of $800,000 (ex. GST) over a five-year period. The fellowships allow researchers to investigate a particular research topic, and help them establish their career in New Zealand.

Dr Fineran’s proposed research programme aims to investigate the systems bacteria use in creating an ‘adaptive immune system’ with memory of past viral invasions. The results will have broad implications due to the global prevalence of bacterium-viral interactions.

The chairperson of the selection panel, Professor Margaret Brimble, said the high calibre of the applicants made choosing the final ten people a very difficult decision.

“Those chosen demonstrated exceptional talent and promise. We believe they will be New Zealand’s future research leaders and are worthy of this investment.”

The fellowships, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand, have been set up to support researchers in the three to 10 year period after they complete a doctorate degree.

Biographical information

Dr Peter Fineran is a Senior Lecturer in Molecular Microbiology in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. After completing his undergraduate training in Biochemistry at the University of Canterbury (2001) Dr Fineran worked at the Australian National University. He conducted his PhD (2006) and postdoctoral research training at the University of Cambridge. Since returning to New Zealand in 2008, Dr Fineran has established a research team at Otago focusing on bacterial gene regulation and the interactions between bacteria and their viruses (bacteriophages).

His research utilises a variety of approaches, including molecular genetics, genomics and biochemistry, to investigate how bacteria control their gene expression and respond to infection by bacteriophages. His research is widely published in international high-impact journals. Most significantly, he was involved in the discovery of a new mechanism of ‘altruistic’ cell suicide that provides ‘innate immunity’ to bacterial populations from viruses at the expense of the infected individual.

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