Science Research at UvA-VU: Bacterial Cell Biology
VU University’s Dr Joen Luirink studies processes in bacterial cell envelopes. One of his projects focuses on a protein complex that plays a crucial role in the division of bacteria. Cell division is also the focus of the Bacterial Cell Biology research programme at the University of Amsterdam. Together, the researchers are working at the Swammerdam Institute of Life Sciences to shed light on this mechanism. And their efforts have not gone unnoticed. ‘There is widespread interest in this research.’
Which factors are involved in the mechanism of cell division? Dr Luirink, who runs the research group at the Department of Molecular Microbiology at VU University Amsterdam, is intimately familiar with this very question. ‘It’s all about the proteins,’ he explains. ‘Certain proteins assemble at a specific time in the middle of the bacterium. From there, they draw in the cell wall, which eventually results in the division of the cell. This gives rise to two identical daughter cells. We study the proteins involved in this constriction, since they are essential for the division and survival of the bacterium.’
Since 2007, he has been working closely with Dr Tanneke den Blaauwen of the Bacterial Cell Biology research group at the University of Amsterdam’s Swammerdam Institute for Life Sciences. Luirink is very pleased with their cooperation. ‘Tanneke is a real expert when it comes to cell division and the use of microscopy and other methods to study this process. Our expertise is more in the field of membrane processes, and our approach involves a greater degree of biochemistry and molecular biology. The two research groups really complement each other well.’
The role of proteins in cell division is also interesting from an applied science point of view. ‘They can be used as a target for antibiotics,’ says Luirink. ‘Cell division is a delicate process. If you develop substances that affect cell division proteins, then you can likely also inhibit growth. There is tremendous interest in our research thanks to this potential new application.’
Exchange and hospitality
Luirink feels that the collaboration between the two universities is a very positive development. ‘We get together every two months to exchange experiences and compare notes, and our PhD students join us. And we have regular consultations by telephone or e-mail about project applications or results. We exchange materials, and our PhD students sometimes go to the UvA for a trial and vice versa. It is a true exchange of knowledge and materials, and also of courtesy privileges to conduct trials in each other’s labs.’
The current level of collaboration will get even easier later this year, when both research groups move to the new OI2 building on the VU campus.