Super-resolving the physical mechanisms of bacterial cell division

Year of award: 2017


  • Dr Seamus Holden

    University of Newcastle

Project summary

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria are a major challenge to our society, threatening to return us to the pre-antibiotic era where even a minor scratch could kill if it became infected. We need to better understand bacteria at a fundamental level to identify genuinely new strategies for antibiotic development. Bacterial cell division is an utterly essential process and an excellent target for new antibiotics. Bacteria divide against high internal pressure, which is like trying to cut an inflated balloon in two without bursting it. For decades, this process has been mysterious, because cell division occurs on the nanoscale, invisible to a conventional microscope.

I will use super-resolution microscopy to discover the basic principles of how bacteria divide. This is a recently developed technique that can observe single protein molecules in living cells at a resolution of tens of nanometres. I will reveal the organisation and motion of individual cell division proteins in live bacteria. This will show how the cell division proteins work together as a single nanoscale machine to cut the bacterial cell wall in two.

My findings will help in the development of new antibiotics that target cell division.