Thesis subject

Design and production of antibacterial polypeptides

At WUR-FBR & WUR-PCC we use biotechnology to design and produce new structural polypeptides for use in high tech biomedical and biotechnological applications such as tissue culture, nano-sized vehicles for drug delivery, new sequencing technologies, and coatings of man-made materials that need to interface with living cells, tissues, body fluids etc. We take inspiration from structural proteins present in nature (collagen, keratin, elastin etc.) in order to create new polypeptide materials with special properties. Design of the molecules starts in silico. We combine sequences from genes encoding for structural proteins and adapt these for our own purposes. Using genetic engineering, we create synthetic genes that are used to produce new types of functional recombinant polypeptides.

In this particular project, you have the opportunity to start a new research line that addresses a major medical problem: bacterial infections. These are typically treated with classical antibiotics such as penicillin, but as you may know, there is a serious problem with resistance of bacteria against many antibiotics. One much investigated alternative are antimicrobial peptides (AMPs): a wide range of natural sequences with very promising activities is available (for example, magainin 2, one of the many AMPs from the skin of frogs, see image), but a range of problems are preventing their widespread use so far: toxicity, instability and high production costs. We believe we can address these issues by incorporating AMPs in polypeptides with well-chosen sequences. As a start, in this MSc project, you are asked to reduce production costs by working on the efficient production of selected AMPs by expressing them in yeast, as fusions with highly hydrophilic polypeptides that can boost their production efficiency. 

We offer an opportunity to learn how to:

  • Write scientific proposals, plans for experiments and scientific reports
  • Use information from biological databases for the in silico design of new genes
  • Do molecular cloning, and protein expression
  • Work with bioreactors
  • Purify and test the functionality of recombinant polypeptides
  • Learn how to test the antimicrobial activity of compounds

We are asking for a highly motivated MSc student:

  • Enrolled in the Biotechnology / Molecular Life Sciences program
  • Preferably with prior experience with PCR, cloning, SDS-PAGE, fermentation, bioinformatics
  • With a  pro-active attitude, and a hands-on mentality!