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Leading Otago scientist gains James Cook Research Fellowship

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Monday 11 November 2013 12:36pm

Professor Gerald Tannock

A University of Otago microbiologist has gained a prestigious James Cook Research Fellowship to support his innovative studies into bacterial communities in the gut and their role in health and disease.

Professor Gerald Tannock—a leading authority on gastrointestinal microbiota - was one of two researchers nationally to be awarded the Fellowship this year.

The Royal Society-administered fellowship allows Professor Tannock to concentrate on his research for two years without the additional burden of administrative and teaching duties.

The annual funding package is $100,000 plus GST and up to $10,000 plus GST in relevant expenses.

His project is titled: “A path to understanding bowel bacteria”.

Professor Tannock says he is delighted to receive the James Cook Fellowship.

“This is an exciting research avenue. There is growing evidence that the composition of bacterial communities in our digestive tracts may have important implications across many aspects of our health, including optimal child nutrition and development, obesity, and inflammatory bowel diseases.

Project description

The large bowels of humans contain trillions of bacterial cells belonging to hundreds of species that form self-regulating communities known as the microbiota. These collections of bacteria have the capacity to chemically transform digestion-resistant-carbohydrates and other polymers present in the digesta.

The aim of the programme is to develop ways to experiment with mixtures of bacteria that live in the human bowel. Physiological measurements of specific bacteria in pure and co-culture in laboratory microcosms will be made to determine the nutritional drivers of microbiota composition and function, especially with respect to the little studied bacterial family Lachnospiraceae. The basic science generated by this approach could be translated to technology (problem solving) with respect to the development of foods and prophylactic supplements that would contribute to sustaining life-long health.

Also critical to translation of basic science to technology is the derivation and dissemination of an updated conceptual view of human bowel ecology. This will be accomplished by preparation and publication of a book. The proposed programme thus encompasses laboratory research and science communication and has the overall aim of providing a path to understanding bowel bacteria.

About James Cook Research Fellowships

James Cook Research Fellowships are awarded to researchers who have the requisite qualifications and experience and are able to demonstrate that they have achieved national and international recognition in their area of scientific research. A small number of prestigious Fellowships are awarded annually to researchers who are recognised leaders in their respective fields. The Fellowships allow them to concentrate on their chosen research for two years without the additional burden of administrative and teaching duties. The funding package annually is $100,000 plus GST and up to $10,000 plus GST in relevant expenses.

In this latest round, the Royal Society of New Zealand received proposals from 14 applicants spanning two broad research areas: Health Sciences; and Engineering Sciences and Technology. Two Assessment Panels scored the proposals and two Fellows were recommended for funding.

For more information, contact

Professor Gerald Tannock
Department of Microbiology and Immunology
University of Otago

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