Microbiology Society Fleming Prize 2019: Professor Peter Fineran

Posted on June 13, 2019   by Evelina Stakevic

The winner of the 2019 Fleming Prize was Professor Peter Fineran, Associate Professor and Rutherford Discovery Fellow at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Presented with his award for outstanding research at the Microbiology Society's Annual Conference 2019, Professor Fineran gave a talk on his research around phage resistance systems, specifically CRISPR-Cas and toxin-antitoxin/abortive infection systems.

Professor Fineran’s lab has found that bacteria infected by phages can activate an internal toxin-antitoxin system, which acts as a defence mechanism against the invader. Upon contact with a phage, bacterial cells release the toxin, thought to be a nucleotidyl transferase, which prematurely terminates the growth of the cell. Detailed investigations into what exactly triggers this process are ongoing.

Having done extensive research into bacterial CRISPR-Cas systems, Professor Fineran went on to discover that during the ‘adaptation’ stage in CRISPR-Cas, errors can occur and cause a form of autoimmunity in bacteria. This results in the bacterium targeting its own genome for destruction.

Professor Fineran went on to discuss the importance of quorum sensing for the functioning of CRISPR-Cas. He found that bacteria without the quorum sensing system had a 500-fold reduced immunity, compromising their CRISPR-Cas immunity. Wild-type bacteria, on the other hand, were found to have significantly higher resistance to foreign plasmids, allowing for an effective reaction to phage invasions.

You can watch Professor Fineran’s Fleming Prize Lecture below:

Fleming Prize Lecture 2019