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Research Fellows Directory

Bert van den Berg

Dr Bert van den Berg

Research Fellow


Newcastle University

Research summary

My research focuses on understanding the uptake of small molecules across the outer membrane (OM) of Gram-negative bacteria. The OM is a unique and highly efficient barrier that prevents spontaneous permeation of various small molecules such as antibiotics into the cell. For the bacterial cell to grow and function, the OM contains membrane proteins that mediate uptake of the necessary ions and nutrients. My laboratory focuses on several important processes that are dependent on the efficient transport of small molecules across the OM of Gram-negative bacteria:

1. Biodegradation of monoaromatic hydrocarbons. Environmental pollutants such as benzene and toluene are taken up by a specialised class of OM channels prior to their enzymatic degradation. We are interested in how these channels transport their water-insoluble substrates into the cell. Understanding this process could aid synthetic biology efforts to design bacterial strains that are more efficient in degrading environmental pollutants.

2. Antibiotics translocation. Emerging multidrug resistance of pathogenic bacteria is a severe and global threat for human health. The rate at which resistance mechanisms emerge is higher than the development rate of novel antibiotics. This is partly because the basic biology of small molecule permeation into Gram-negative bacteria is not well understood. We are studying the structure and function of OM proteins of pathogenic bacteria to understand how antibiotics pass through these proteins. This work may facilitate the future design of novel, more effective antibiotics.

3. Nutrient acquisition by the human gut microbiota. It has recently become clear that the gut microbiota, the collective of bacteria inhabiting our large intestine, is of vital importance for almost every aspect of human health. We study how dominant members of the human microbiota acquire their nutrients, providing essential information about the functioning of the human microbiota.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Understanding antibiotic uptake by studying bacterial outer membrane transport

Scheme: Wolfson Research Merit Awards

Dates: May 2013 - Apr 2018

Value: £50,000