Researchers at The University of Warwick are among four world-class teams receiving a share of £18 million to pursue transformational bioscience research programmes.


Funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC), the four teams will tackle bold challenges at the frontiers of bioscience, combining world-class ideas, people and transformative technologies with the aim of uncovering fundamental rules of life.

The team from the University of Warwick’s School of Life Sciences will investigate the bacterial cell wall – which could help to develop new classes of antibiotics, tackling the global challenge of antibiotic resistance.

Knowledge gap

Cell walls are essential for the survival of most bacteria and they dictate bacteria shape. They are mostly made of a compound called peptidoglycan which binds together to form new wall material by a combination of proteins known as the ‘elongasome’. Remarkably, we know very little about how this important protein complex functions at a molecular level. This represents a key knowledge gap in our understanding of bacterial physiology.

Through a coalescence of microbial biochemistry, biophysics, and chemical biology, the team leading this project aim to provide new insight into how the bacterial cell wall is formed. They will deploy structural analyses in tandem with molecular dynamics simulations to determine the basis of elongasome function and regulation from the atomic through to the macromolecular scale. This will lead to a significant advance in our understanding of how bacterial cell walls form.

Further, this project may lay the foundations for development of fundamentally new classes of antibiotics that inhibit the elongasome machinery.

Collaborative project

This project is a collaboration between University of Warwick and Queen’s University Belfast. It is led by Professor David Roper in collaboration with Stephen Cockrane, Séamus Holden and Phillip Stansfeld.

Professor David Roper, University of Warwick, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity to apply an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to a understand how bacteria make and control their cell walls that may provide us with the knowledge and tools to develop new antibiotics. The provision of this five-year funding means we can all work together in a way that is not normally possible”.

The investment from the BBSRC’s strategic Longer Larger grants programme (sLoLa) aims to catalyse and convene the critical mass of research effort needed to address significant fundamental questions in bioscience.  

Pivotal step

Professor Guy Poppy, Interim Executive Chair at BBSRC, added: “The latest investment by BBSRC’s sLoLa award programme represents a pivotal step in advancing frontier bioscience research.

“These four world-class teams are poised to unravel the fundamental rules of life, employing interdisciplinary approaches to tackle bold challenges at the forefront of bioscience.

“By fostering collaboration and innovation, we aim to catalyse ground-breaking discoveries with far-reaching implications for agriculture, health, biotechnology, the green economy and beyond.”

The four projects funded by sLoLa

  • Rules of life in microbial communities, Led by Professor Sophie Nixon, The University of Manchester
  • Human heart development, Led by Professor Sanjay Sinha, University of Cambridge
  • GlycoWeb, Led by Professor Cathy Merry, University of Nottingham
  • Bacterial cell wall formation, Led by Professor David Roper, University of Warwick