The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is set to fund sixty-two researchers across the UK, each of whom will receive a share of £12 million to pursue novel bioscience research. From lessons in regeneration that we can learn from rejuvenating jellyfish to the effect sleep has on our genetic ageing, each of the projects will explore early-stage ideas at thefrontiers of bioscience.
By drawing upon unconventional thinking and approaches, the investigators hope to make exciting discoveries with the potential to transform our understanding of the fundamental rules of life.
These new investigations aim to radically change the way we think about important biological phenomena covering plant, microbial and animal sciences.
The investment by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s Pioneer Awards enables the pursuit of unique ideas that challenge current thinking or open up novel areas of exploration.
Cracking the code of immortality
In the world of biology, there’s very little dispute that once animals reach adulthood, they cannot turn back the clock. That’s because their cells transform into specific types and cannot change back.
However, the Turritopsis dohrnii jellyfish defies this rule. It can transform its adult cells back into a youthful state, essentially becoming young again and granting itself a form of immortality.
In a research first, scientists at Cardiff University will delve into the genetic secrets behind this remarkable phenomenon to unpack the molecular mechanisms that underpin this astonishing physiological process.
This ground-breaking research could transform our understanding of ageing, regenerative medicine and developmental biology.
Secret fungal travellers
Fungi can exchange genetic traits through a process called horizontal gene transfer (HGT), allowing the spread of potentially dangerous traits like virulence and antibiotic resistance.
Recent research has hypothesised that HGT in fungi may be driven by a class of giant transposons called ‘starships’. These starships are thought to contain both the genetic material to be shared and the machinery needed to excise and re-insert themselves into a host genome.
With this latest funding, researchers at the University of Birmingham will investigate these intriguing phenomena to answer key questions about evolutionary biology.
A more thorough understanding of the mechanisms that govern fungal HGT could pave the way for new innovations that prevent the spread of fungal diseases and antibiotic resistance.
Unlocking nature’s GPS
A bird’s ability to navigate during migration has long fascinated scientists. It is believed they can sense Earth’s magnetic fields, aiding their coordination during migration. This phenomenon, called magnetoreception, involves proteins sensing magnetic fields and influencing the bird’s behaviour.
Current consensus among researchers is that this ability is linked to two specific chemical radicals in the bird’s eyes, formed by a protein called cryptochrome. However, this theoretical model fails to explain the remarkable sensitivity that migratory birds have to Earth’s weak magnetic field.
With BBSRC funding, researchers at the University of Exeter will challenge current thinking with a new hypothesis; that not two, but three radicals are involved in the process.
Regardless of whether the central hypothesis is confirmed or not, the outcomes of this pioneering research will significantly advance the field. This is because the scientific basis for how animals sense magnetic fields has never been experimentally proven.
Deep roots in bioscience
Professor Guy Poppy, Interim Executive Chair at BBSRC, said: “Understanding the fundamental rules of life, such as the principles governing genetics, evolution and biological processes, is essential for advancing scientific knowledge. It is also imperative to societal progress.
“Many of the challenges faced by today’s society, such as global food security, environmental sustainability and healthcare, are deeply rooted in biological processes.
“BBSRC is committed to understanding the rules of life by investing in cutting-edge discovery research through schemes like the Pioneer Awards pilot. Our investments are pivotal in expanding the horizons of human knowledge and helping to unlock innovative bio-based solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”