Biochemistry Projects

Protein Science

Amyloid fibrilHow does protein aggregation impact on the digestibility of proteins in processed food?

This is an applied, funded programme which will run in association with Crop & Food and the Riddet Centre of Research Excellence. The project is still in the design phase, but funding is secure, and the successful student will play an active role is designing their research programme to answer the question posed: How does protein aggregation impact on the digestibility of proteins in processed food?  Techniques employed are likely to include basic biochemical and biophysical methods to monitor protein aggregation states (available through the Biomolecular Interaction Centre); microscopy (confocal, TEM, AFM – all available locally) and digestibility assays (to be set up locally in conjunction with researchers at Crop & Food in Massey and Lincoln).
Degree: PhD for preference; MSc and Honours also considered
Background/skills required: BSc Honours or MSc in Biochemistry, Chemistry or Food Science.
Scholarship funding is available for a PhD student.
Field/lab support funding is available
.
Supervisor: Professor Juliet Gerrard

dhdps structureProbing the evolution of quaternary structure of proteins using directed evolution

Building on our recent insights into the evolution of quaternary structure in homotetrameric proteins (Griffin et al., Journal of Molecular Biology 2008; Burgess et al., Journal of Biological Chemistry 2008) this project will use the tools of directed evolution to test our ideas about how and why particular oligomeric states are favoured as proteins evolve.  This project will be associated with researchers in The Maurice Wilkins Centre of Research Excellence and use the new facilities made available in the Biomolecular Interaction Centre here at Canterbury.
Degree: PhD (or Honours or MSc)
Background/skills required: BSc Honours or MSc in Biochemistry, Chemistry or Molecular Biology
Scholarship funding may be available
(awaiting Marsden grant result).
Field/lab support funding may be available
(awaiting Marsden grant result).
Supervisor: Professor Juliet Gerrard

Free Radical Biochemistry

Heart diseaseHeart disease, strokes and plaque growth: The role of cell death.

Heart disease and strokes are caused by the collection of cholesterol filled cells within the wall of arteries called atherosclerotic plaques. Oxidised cholesterol formed in the plaque causes cells to die and the plaque to rupture so triggering blood clot formation. This results in a heart attack if the clot stops the supply of blood to the heart, or a stroke if the supply to parts of the brain is affected. Our past research has described how a white blood cell generated antioxidant called dihydroneopterin protects the cells from oxidised cholesterol and inhibits the formation of oxidised LDL. This research project will look at the mechanism of this protection by studying the regulation of the cholesterol uptake receptors and the intracellular oxidant scavenging activity of dihydroneopterin. We are looking for students who have an interest in clinical/medical biochemistry and wish to learn how to grow and culture human cells.
Degree: Honours, Masters or PhD
Background/skills required: Biochemistry or Cell Physiology or Microbiology
Scholarship funding may be available.
Field/lab support funding is available.
Supervisor: Assoc Prof Steven Gieseg

Oxidative and Inflammatory Events in Atherosclerotic Plaque.

The events driving plaque growth in the artery are very much determined by the balance of oxidants and antioxidants. This balance is affected by inflammatory events within the plaque and the changing flow of blood through the artery. We have an on going study analysing atherosclerotic plaques removed from patients during surgery, to determine variation in levels of antioxidant and oxidant through the length of the plaque tissue. This study is providing important data on the location of key oxidative events occurring during the disease progression. The research will also provide extensive training in the use of HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) for the measurement of antioxidants and oxidative markers in clinical samples.
Degree: Honours, Masters or PhD
Background/skills required: Biochemistry or Organic Chemistry
Scholarship funding may be available.
Field/lab support funding is available.
Supervisor: Assoc Prof Steven Gieseg

Biochemistry labInflammation and Septicaemia

The release of γ-interferon by T cells is a key part of the inflammatory response to infection and damaged cells. γ-Interferon causes phagocytic white blood cells to increase their ability to generate oxidants and degradative enzymes. In macrophage cells, interferon also causes the synthesis of 7, 8-dihydroneopterin and its oxidation product neopterin from GTP. The measurement of neopterin has been used for over a decade for the detection and monitoring of inflammation within the body. Our research has shown that the 7, 8-dihydroneopterin is a potent antioxidant which may act to protect the macrophages cells. This research project will look at how inflammation and pus production in post operative patients is related to the levels of 7, 8-dihydroneopterin, neopterin and oxidants in the patients blood and site the actual site of inflammation. We are looking for students with an interest in clinical biochemistry and machine based biochemistry.
Degree: Honours, Masters or PhD
Background/skills required: Biochemistry or Organic Chemistry
Scholarship funding may be available.
Field/lab support funding is available.
Supervisor: Assoc Prof Steven Gieseg

A model of Motor Neurone Disease: Methyl bromide induced cell damage.

A higher than background incidence of motor neurone disease (MND) in New Zealand port workers exposed to methyl bromide fumigant has led to the hypothesis that methyl bromide might initiate the biochemical changes that lead to MND via a free radical mechanism.  There is considerable evidence that free radical/oxidative damage is occurring during MND. Similarly it is known that methyl bromide generates free radicals in aqueous solutions.  However, it is not known whether methyl bromide generates free radicals in living cells and whether such radicals are able to perturb cellular biochemistry in such a way as to initiate the biochemical changes that might lead to MND.  The proposed study will investigate free radical generation form methyl bromide in an isolated cell system and will investigate key cell markers for biochemical damage. The research will involve tissue culture of cells and HPLC analysis of markers of cellular damage.
Degree: Honours, Masters or PhD
Background/skills required: Biochemistry or Organic Chemistry
Scholarship funding may be available.
Field/lab support funding is likely to be available.
Supervisor: Assoc Prof Steven Gieseg

General Biochemistry

Various projects available

Taking expressions of interest in projects involving some aspect of modelling and laboratory work preferably addressing questions at the interface of genetics and ecology. Examples of questions of interest:

  1. Can phage microcosms be used to test theories of ecological resilience? Natural phage ecosystems have the potential to be rich in within scale diversity. Does this within scale diversity make these systems resilient?
  2. Influence of heterogeneity on interspecies recombination. How do variances around a mean sequence identity between two genomes affect molecular recombination?

Degree: Honours / Masters / PhD
Background/skills required: Open.
Scholarship funding may be available.
Field/lab support funding is available
.
Supervisor: Professor Jack Heinemann

Soil Biochemistry

Do microbial and insect cell walls decompose in soil?

Microbial and insect cell walls contain amino sugars in monomeric or polymeric forms.  Often the amino sugars are complexed with phenolics making them markedly resistant to enzymatic breakdown.  Why is this so?  Can the nitrogen in the amino sugars be made available for plant growth, thus benefiting New Zealand forestry and agriculture by lessening the need for regular additions of expensive and polluting nitrogenous fertilisers?
Degree: Honours / Masters / PhD
Background/skills required: General biology and chemistry but a strong interest in natural science.
Scholarship funding may be available.
Field/lab support funding is available
.
Supervisor: Associate Professor Laurie Greenfield

The enzymatic breakdown of soil organic matter.

Dead plants, animals and microbes contain high quality resources that are usually in intimate associations, eg. carbohydrate-protein, protein-tannin complexes.  Despite over a hundred years of research the structure and nature of soil organic matter is controversially unknown yet paradoxically the world is not knee deep in dead things.  Expensive and often pollution causing fertilisers such as N, P and K are added to soils to increase plant yields.  It may be possible to alleviate the need for regular fertiliser additions by releasing the nutrients contained in dead organic matter.

Recent studies have shown that enzyme absorption and inactivation on organic matter surfaces is a large problem as is the need to adjust the redox reactions occurring in the presence of a variety of enzymes and emulsifiers.  Further studies could be continued in these directions where complete dissolution of leather and partial dissolution of wood has been achieved.

Degree: Masters / PhD
Background/skills required:General biology and chemistry but a strong interest in natural science.
Scholarship funding may be available.
Field/lab support funding is available
.
Supervisor: Associate Professor Laurie Greenfield

Contact Staff

Dr Renwick Dobson Dr Renwick Dobson
Biochemistry
Steve Gieseg Assoc Prof Steve Gieseg
Free Radical Biochemistry
Ashley Garrill Dr Ashley Garrill
Biochemistry
Laurie Greenfield Assoc Prof Laurie Greenfield
Soil Microbiology
Juliet Gerrard Prof Juliet Gerrard
Biochemistry
  Prof Jack Heinemann
Gene Ecology

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