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5 April 2010
Fostering scientific links between the UK and Japan

University of Nottingham scientists will join forces with Japan in the fight against a common bacterium — thanks to an international research award.
Nottingham experts are to collaborate with their counterparts at two leading Japanese universities in the search for a better understanding of E.coli, a prevalent bug which can be fatal.

Picture of bacteria

Dr Dov Stekel and Dr Jon Hobman have won a £23,000 Japan Partnering Award from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), a prestigious award set up to bring together leading researchers and foster long-term relationships between the UK and Japan.

Dr Stekel and Dr Hobman will collaborate with research teams led by Professors Naotake Ogasawara and Shigehiko Kanaya at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology, and Dr Toru Tobe at the University of Osaka.

E.coli is a species of bacterium found in the intestines of animals and humans. Some strains can survive ingestion and establish themselves in the gut, causing infection and a variety of diseases including cystitis, meningitis and diarrhoea. E.coli is usually transferred to humans by ingesting contaminated water, or contaminated food, such as meat, which has not been cooked properly.

Variants such as the 0157 strain are potentially fatal. In the UK’s worst recorded outbreak, 20 people died over a period of weeks in 1996-7 after attending a church lunch in Strathclyde, Scotland.

The latest project will use powerful experimental and computing techniques to discover more about the wide range of strategies that these bacteria have adopted that allow them to survive and thrive in the human gut. The work will help underpin international efforts to understand the biology of harmful E. coli strains, and control and intervene in future outbreaks.

Dr Stekel, Associate Professor of Integrative Systems Biology, in the School of Biosciences, said: “We are very excited about this award. The Japanese groups have developed some cutting-edge experimental technologies and we are very much looking forward to working with them to the benefit of all our groups.

“The award creates an opportunity to make significant progress in our understanding of how these organisms survive, colonise hosts and cause disease.”

The Japan Partnering Awards are run jointly with the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) to support scientists in the field of systems biology. The award will fund travel between the two countries, networking opportunities and collaborative activities, such as workshops or early career research exchanges.
The awards provide support for up to four years and will assist the groups to jointly produce high-impact publications, new grant applications and reciprocal access to facilities.

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive of the BBSRC, said: “Modern bioscience demands international collaboration. By working together across international borders we can generate faster progress and higher quality science than we can alone. This scheme, and the close relationship between BBSRC and the JST, allows us to foster and build links between UK and Japanese researchers.”

This year’s awards have been made to four UK research groups — at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge, Imperial and Nottingham — and their Japanese counterparts.

The title of the Nottingham project is ‘Dynamic mathematical modelling of diversification of transcriptional regulatory networks underlying the genetic variation of E. coli species’.

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