LA JOLLA, CA April 19 The Scripps Research Institute has received a $3 million grant renewal from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for support of scientist James Hoch's studies on bacterial signaling proteins. The four-year award will fund the ninth term of a grant that began in 1973making it one of the longest-running NIH grants awarded to Scripps Research.
"We started out with an important problem that no one knew much about or had good tools to study," said Hoch, a professor in Scripps Research's Department of Molecular and Experimental Medicine. "Our tools have become more sophisticated over the years, but our awareness of the true complexity of bacterial signaling has grown, too."
Hoch's research under the grant was initially aimed at understanding the signals that trigger "sporulation," the developmental process by which some bacteria suspend their normal growth and form tough, seed-like spores. One of the best-known spore-forming species, the infamous anthrax bacterium Bacillus anthracis, can survive this way indefinitely in soil or air; when its spores are inhaled or otherwise get into the body of a host, they switch back to growth-mode and cause frequently lethal infections.
Hoch and his lab at Scripps Research first identified the master gene that was required for sporulation in Bacillus subtilis, a closely related but safer-to-work-with species. In the mid-1980s, with the advent of gene cloning and DNA sequencing, the team purified the gene's product, a DNA-binding protein called Spo0A that serves as the bacterium's master trigger for sporulation.
Hoch's studies of Spo0A and its partner signaling proteins led to one of the earliest descriptions of a "two-component signaling pathway," a simple communication network that enables bacteria to sense and respond to specific stimuli. Such pathways start at the surface of bacterial cells, where sensor histidine kinase enzymes detect specific environmental fac
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Scripps Research Institute