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Research news from BBSRC

19 January 2007

The following stories appear in the January 2007 edition of Business, the quarterly magazine of research highlights from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Sugar chains for cell defence system
Sugars attached to proteins or lipids on cell surfaces are important for several biological processes, including host-pathogen recognition and trafficking of white blood cells to sites of infection. Researchers at Imperial College London are studying how the structure and configuration of the sugar molecules affects their function, and are aiming to identify which sugar chain structures are associated with particular cells and organs. The team, led by Professor Anne Dell, has just won $4M to continue their role as the only overseas core facility in a large US collaborative project. This research could improve understanding of glycosylation changes indicative of diseases including Muscular Dystrophy and some cancers.
(Page 10)


Professor Anne Dell, Imperial College London, e-mail:

Fermentation – more important than just a decent pint
If just five percent of fuel in our cars was bioethanol it would be the equivalent of taking a million vehicles off the road. However, with the UK’s first bioethanol plants expected to start production later this year, output will be limited by available land and other demands on biofuel. In this environment maximising the efficiency of the fermentation process is essential and researchers at the University of Nottingham are planning to draw on state-of-the-art fermentation technologies to the production of biofuels. A better understanding of the basic biology of yeast could lead to more efficient alcohol fermentation for a range of applications. Nottingham has also just launched the UK’s first masters course in Brewing Science.
(Page 11)

Professor Katherine Smart, University of Nottingham, e-mail:

Salmonella bacteria use hit-and-run tactics
Scientists using state-of-the-art microscopy have found Salmonella bacteria use a guerrilla warfare-like approach to attacking your body’s cells. Researchers at the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with mathematicians, are proposing a new model to explain infection. The new explanation shows that released bacteria from an infected cell fan out like a guerrilla army, each independently infiltrating another cell. The findings will help in developing new vaccines against Salmonella infections.
(Page 12)


Dr Pietro Mastroeni, University of Cambridge, e-mail:

Climate adaptation with anti-flowering trigger
Researchers at the John Innes Centre in Norwich have discovered how the wide-spread plant Arabidopsis has adapted to different climates by regulating the gene FLC, which delays flowering until the temperature is favourable. FLC is inactivated after varying periods of cold – 4 weeks in the UK, but 14 weeks in an arctic climate. If the temperature rises within this period, FLC is activated again to prevent premature flowering. This mechanism has evolved relatively quickly and could help us develop crops able to cope with climate change.
(Page 15)

Professor Caroline Dean, John Innes Centre, e-mail:

Pre-hatching bronchitis vaccine protects chicks
Infectious bronchitis virus (IBV) causes losses of £23.6M a year to the UK poultry industry, but scientists at the Institute for Animal Health and vaccine company Intervet UK are developing a prototype vaccine virus to vaccinate chicks while they are still in the egg. The scientists have extracted a spike protein from a pathogenic virus strain which triggers an immune response, and incorporated it into a harmless non-pathogenic strain. Tests show that up to 100 percent of vaccinated chicks who were exposed to IBV were protected by the vaccine.
(Page 16)

Dr Paul Britton, Institute for Animal Health, e-mail:


Notes to editors

These stories all appear in the January 2007 issue of BBSRC Business. For copies please contact the BBRSC Media Office.


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.


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