Bacterial spores of the genera Bacillus and Clostridium are the toughest cells found in nature. Formed in response to nutrient starvation, they can persist in the environment and retain viability for perhaps thousands of years. While this is of considerable intrinsic interest, spores of several species are also the aetiological agents of diseases such as anthrax, botulism, C. difficile associated infection etc. Hence, there is considerable fundamental and applied interest in developing a better understanding of spore physiology and biology. The Christie lab are interested in elucidating the molecular mechanisms that underpin the process of spore germination (i.e. the return to life), since insights here may lead to novel methodologies for treating spore-associated illness. Germination is essentially a biophysical process, progressing in the apparent absence of biochemical energy. It encompasses a series of temporally distinct ion fluxes and degradative reactions that are carried out by spore-specific germinant receptor proteins, ion transporters, and cell-wall lysins, whose combined activity results ultimately in the emergence of a new cell. The lab employs a wide range of molecular biology, biochemical and biophysical techniques, including x-ray crystallography, to study the structure and function of these proteins. In line with the general ethos of the spores themselves, virtually all of these proteins have proved challenging to work with over the years! However, this makes progress all the more satisfying, and the projects on offer present PhD students the opportunity to acquire a broad skill set for future careers in the life sciences.
- Christie G. 2012. Initiation of germination in Bacillus and Clostridium spores, p. 89-106. In Abel-Santos E (ed.), Bacterial Spores: Current research and applications. Caister Academic Press, Norfolk, UK.
- Gupta S, Ustok FI, Johnson CL, Bailey DM, Lowe CR, Christie G. 2013. Investigating the functional hierarchy of Bacillus megaterium PV361 spore germinant receptors. Journal of bacteriology 195:3045-3053.
- Christie G, Gotzke H, Lowe CR. 2010. Identification of a receptor subunit and putative ligand-binding residues involved in the Bacillus megaterium QM B1551 spore germination response to glucose. Journal of bacteriology 192:4317-4326.