Investigating the anti-microbial potential of peptides

The School's Institute for Condensed Matter & Complex Systems and Oxford University have received £477,000 from EPSRC to study the molecular structure and function of novel protein fragments (peptides) designed to have potent anti-microbial activity. The work is an international collaboration and involes the UK's National Physical Laboratory (NPL) as an industrial co-funder and IBM Research in New York. Jason Crain will be the Edinburgh project leader.

The project seeks to understand how short protein fragments are effective in combating infection from bacteria and viruses and to reveal the molecular mechanisms by which they function. The aim is to design new and more effective molecules in collaboration with industrial partners.

The project combines synthesis of new materials with state-of-the-art experiment and computer simulations implemented on the Blue Gene supercomputers at IBM's Watson Research Labs and on facilities at EPCC. A particular aim is to understand the interactions of antimicrobial peptides with cellular membranes.

The work is relevant to the issue of antimicrobial resistance, which is recognised as a growing global concern with wide-ranging ramifications to the extent that the problem has been selected by the WHO as the theme for World Health Day 2011.

The project is part of a major collaboration between the partners funded by NPL and SUPA. Edinburgh's work, which spans both the experimental and computational aspects, is part of its growing research activities in biophysics with applications in healthcare.