Actinomycetes Biology & Antibiotic Discovery

Dr. Lorena Fernández-Martínez’s research in the Biology Department at Edge Hill University

Slide culture of a Streptomyces speciesResearch in my laboratory is focused on understanding the production of natural products from Actinomycetes. Actinomycetes are a wonderful and diverse group of gram positive bacteria present in almost all environments. In particular my research group is interested in the genus Streptomyces because this genus alone is responsible for the production of a high number of clinically relevant specialised metabolites including antibiotics, anti-fungal, anti-helminthic and anti-cancer drugs.

By understanding how these medically relevant compounds are made by the producing organism, we can manipulate these biosynthetic pathways and therefore increase their yield. This is essential for industry as in order to undergo clinical trials, biotechnology companies need to be able to obtain high quantities of the purified new drug to be tested.

We also have an interest on how these industrially relevant Streptomyces strains develop in their natural environment. Streptomyces contain an arsenal of specialised metabolite clusters which are not expressed under laboratory conditions. We aim to understand more about their ecological niche as well as how interactions with other organisms affect development and specialised metabolite production.

We use a wide range of techniques in order to study the production of these specialised metabolites and the biology of these fascinating organisms including molecular genetics techniques such as cloning, heterologous expression, directed mutagenesis and gene deletion combined with enzymatic assays, microscopy, DNA and RNA sequencing and bioinformatic approaches.

Current Projects

Two members of staff in lab coats analyse a conical flask in a laboratory.Identification of natural products from Colombian Actinomycetes: understanding their biosynthesis towards the discovery and production of novel antimicrobials.

This Newton Institutional Links funded project has developed on to an EHU funded PhD studentship in which Lina Pintor-Escobar is trying to identify new antibiotics from three Colombian Streptomyces strains. View more information on this project.

Back to Soil: awakening the production of cryptic antibiotics in Streptomyces strains

In this BBSRC funded project, Dr Jana Schniete and Joey Paros are investigating the regulation of antibiotic gene clusters under soil conditions, particularly in industrially relevant strains, as this will help us understand how the production of these compounds is regulated in a more natural environment. Expression of most of these antibiotic gene clusters appears dormant (cryptic) under laboratory conditions but the clusters are maintained in the genomes of these strains, therefore indicating that they must play important roles in adaptation and survival within their ecological niches. These cryptic pathways represent an untapped resource in terms of new metabolites and novel chemistry that could be very useful in the clinic.

Recent projects

Gillian LewisThe effect of seasonal change on the distribution of antibiotic producing Actinomycete communities across a coastal transect

In this project MRes candidate Gillian Lewis tried to understand the effect of seasonal variation on production of metabolites in Actinomycetes.

Soil using samples from sites across the North West of England.The build-up of antibiotic resistance across different land uses in the UK

In this MRes project Kieran Osbiston explored whether there is a link between land use and antibiotic resistance levels in the soil using samples from sites across the North West of England.

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