IBA member (from The Norwegian University of Life Sciences in Oslo) and recipient of the IBA travel grant for research stays abroad, Janine Liedtke, has spent three weeks in Belgium working on her PhD. This is what she had to say about it!

Vrije Universiteit, Brussels.

The aim of my PhD project is to investigate bacterial spore surface structures, known as “appendages”. The presence of appendages among many spore forming Bacillus and Clostridium species suggest that they have an important biological function. Despite the fact that several studies already have been on spore appendages, their genetic identity and role remain elusive because of their extreme resistance towards chemical as well as enzymatic treatments. We want to overcome these issues by using state-of-the-art techniques like the latest electron microscopy and mass spectrometric techniques. For these purpose, we work closely together with our national and international partners, since they can provide us with the latest techniques as well as with their expertise.

I have succeeded to develop a method that allows extraction of a high amount and nearly pure appendages. This has already lead to high quality TEM images of the structure of the fibres, which has not been reported yet. However, due to the high resistance and hydrophobic behaviour of the appendages, we faced several difficulties to degrade and solubilize the appendage structure for further mass spectroscopic analyses.

At the same time, our collaboration partner Prof. Ute Krengel (UiO), who became a part of my supervisor team, introduced us to Prof. Han Remaute from the VUB in Belgium. Prof. Remaute has extensive expertise on working with bacterial surface-associated amyloid fibres and he gave me the great opportunity to use state of the art electron microscopy techniques in his lab to study the structure of the appendages in further detail. We decided to have a first “short” visit to test if those techniques are suitable for determining the structure of the appendages. Luckily, it turned out that their technique can provide us with a high-resolution model of our structure. Additionally with the support of the group members Dr. Mike Sleutel and Dr. Jolyon K. Claridge, I was also able to conduct further chemical treatments of appendages to test their solubility and stability.

During my first visit, we made good progress in improving the resolution of the appendage structure and gained more information of the chemical properties of the appendages. At the same time, I got the chance to join a highly motivated group with who I discussed many new ideas and from who I learned another way to approach my project.

My research visit would not had been possible without the grant from the National Graduate School in Infection Biology and Antimicrobials (IBA) and I am very grateful for the support. I have been invited to a longer research visit in Prof. Han Remautes lab and a plan to go there to continue and finalize the work on the structure on the spore appendages.