Keith Chater is a bacterial geneticist who has greatly enhanced our understanding of the large family of soil-dwelling bacteria called streptomycetes. These unusual organisms are of great interest due to their complex biology: they produce many antibiotics, including streptomycin — the first treatment effective against tuberculosis.
Keith used a combination of classical and molecular genetics to explore the factors controlling streptomycetes’ reproductive phase, in which they grow fungal-like filaments and release spores, as well as their biosynthesis of antibiotics. He developed a bacteriophage vector to isolate the genes responsible, and discovered a novel pathway that regulates translation of key genes regulating development and antibiotic production.
As whole genome sequences of Streptomyces species became available, Keith has undertaken detailed comparisons to gain insight into their evolution from simpler progenitors, involving the acquisition of new genes. His studies offer new strategies for the treatment of diseases caused by related bacteria, including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and provide starting points for the development of new antibiotics.