Scientific Research Project Title

Growth regulation by tRNA and tRNA-related small RNAs in bacteria

Research Institution

University of Copenhagen

RESEARCH FIELD

Molecular biology, microbial genetics

CONTACT INFO

Phone: +45 35322033
Email: SLS@bio.ku.dk

Research leader

Sine Lo Svenningsen

Associate Professor, PhD from Princeton University, born 1979

Project title

How transfer RNA and related molecules regulate the growth of bacteria

What is your project about?

Cells make proteins by joining a series of individual amino acids in the order specified by the DNA code. My project is about transfer RNA, small essential RNA molecules found in large numbers in all cells. A transfer RNA molecule functions as the adaptor between a specific code in the DNA and the corresponding amino acid. We have discovered that bacteria actively break down surplus transfer RNA, so that the supply of transfer RNA is continually matched to the demand. This discovery changes our view of transfer RNA from merely being an adaptor to actually being an important regulator of bacterial growth. The project will reveal the molecular mechanism underlying the break down of transfer RNA, and determine the effects this dynamical transfer RNA regulation has on the cells.

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

I became fascinated with the apparent simplicity of the genetic code as a high school biology student. Today, armed with greater knowledge and experience, I am even more consumed with understanding the information encoded in our DNA. The code specifies not only which proteins can be made, but also under which conditions each of them should be made and how much should be made of each. Gene regulation is particularly exciting to study in bacteria because the consequences of a change in the regulation of a single gene can very often be observed directly as a change in the visible properties of the bacterium.

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

Our recent results suggest that we have drastically underestimated the importance of transfer RNA and related molecules as key players in the regulation of bacterial growth. This Sapere Aude project therefore has the potential to conceptually advance our understanding of how bacteria regulate their growth rate to adapt to changes in their surroundings. 

It is particularly challenging to tamper with the most central components of the cell, such as transfer RNA, because even minor changes are likely to have broad repercussions. This can complicate the interpretation of experimental results, thus we must be both thorough and vigilant in our approach. 

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

I expect that the knowledge we obtain will, in the long term, contribute to the development of improved methods of controlling bacterial growth. This could be in regards to both optimising the growth of bacteria used in biotechnology, or preventing the growth of pathogenic bacteria during infection.

 Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

The Sapere Aude will allow me to put together a strong international team of researchers and students that will enable us to make fast progress, reaching the project goals in a short time frame. The project gives me a great opportunity to expand my international network, and will strengthen my group’s position at the forefront of RNA-based gene regulation research. I see the recognition and prestige of the Sapere Aude programme as a strong motivator, encouraging me to maintain a high level of ambition for my future contributions to science.  

Background and personal life

I love research because it allows me to fully immerse myself in the pursuit of understanding the molecular mechanisms that make biological life possible. When I am not thinking about science, I focus on enjoying that life preferably in the company of my family and close friends, or by challenging myself with an obstacle course race, a bike ride, or a run in the beautiful forests around Søllerød, where I live with my Canadian husband and our two daughters. 

City of current residence
Søllerød

High school
Køge Gymnasium