Fourth FIRST Lecture: Turbocharged Evolution in a Bacterial Arms Race by Mukund Thattai, Lecture Hall, 1530 hrs

Forum for Interdisciplinary Research and Studies (FIRST)

Invites you to the Fourth FIRST Lecture on


Turbocharged Evolution in a Bacterial Arms Race


Mukund Thattai

National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bengaluru


Date and Time: Friday, November 25, 2016, 3:30 PM

Venue: Conference Hall-II, NIAS


Abstract: Satoshi Omura made his 2015-Nobel-Prize-winning discovery on a golf course: he isolated a soil-dwelling bacterium that secreted avermectin, a drug which revolutionised the treatment of parasitic diseases. Such stories are surprisingly common: we find potent bioactive compounds in almost any niche that has a rich microbial ecology. This is because bacteria are engaged in an ongoing arms race to generate novel molecules, to be deployed as weapons against enemies or as signals among friends. Just as our immune system uses a combinatorial strategy to generate antibodies, bacteria could use combinatorial chemistry to synthesise useful molecules. I will discuss an amazing set of bacterial proteins called polyketide synthases (PKSs) that actually use such a strategy. These enzymes produce compounds like the anti-parasitic avermectin, the antibiotic erythromycin, and the immunosuppressant rapamycin. We have shown that the unusual structure of PKSs allows them to convert the random process of DNA recombination into an efficient strategy to explore chemical space. PKSs thus appear optimised not to produce a single chemical product, but rather to search for new products: they are the innovation engines that keep bacteria one step ahead of the competition.


Downloadable References:

Chemistry: Staunton and Weissman

Biology/Medicine: Omura and Crump

Physics: Callahan, Thattai and Shraiman

About the Speaker: Mukund Thattai obtained a BA in physics from Cornell University in 1999, and a PhD in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2004. Since 2004, he has been on the faculty at the National Centre for Biological Sciences. Dr Thattai has previously made contributions in the area of synthetic biology, a field which attempts to combine genes into biological circuits. He is currently studying the two-billion-year-old origins of complex eukaryotic cells. Dr. Thattai is deeply involved in public engagement efforts and art/science collaborations, working with conceptual artists and theatre practitioners to explore the practice of biology and its impact on society.

Tea / Coffee will be served at 3.00 PM

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This is to remind you that NIAS has decided to establish an inter-institution Forum for Interdisciplinary Research and Studies (FIRST), with two principal aims:

1. Invite eminent scholars from various institutes and universities in and around Bengaluru to discuss recent work (their own or of others) in various disciplines that have adopted interdisciplinary approaches. We propose that these meetings be held once a month, on the afternoon of the last Friday of each month, at NIAS

2. Build up a virtual library or an electronic archive of interdisciplinary research manuscripts and publications, where it would be possible to upload relevant papers as well as download them, of course, only for academic purposes. We envisage that this archive be housed on the NIAS website.





Friday, November 25, 2016