Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences

Staff Profile

Dr Fernando Santos Beneit

Research Associate

Background

I studied Biology at University of León (Spain). I spent ten months as a Socrates-Erasmus grant holder at the department of Molecular Cell Physiology of the “Vrije Universiteit” in Amsterdam (Holland), where I worked with the Gram-negative bacterium, Paracoccus denitrificans. I conducted my PhD in molecular biology at University of León, where I was awarded a PhD (cum laude) in 2010, as well as the 2012 University of León Extraordinary Prize for the best thesis in Biology. I have dedicated ten years to studying phosphate regulation in the model actinomycete Streptomyces coelicolor, with particular focus on secondary metabolite regulation and nutrient stress cross-talk. I developed most of my work at the Institute of Biotechnology of León, but I also collaborated with different researches at the department of Molecular Biology in the Faculty of Biology as well as with several biotechnology companies. In 2013, I worked as postdoctoral researcher in the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria, where my role encompassed not only my ongoing research responsibilities, but also a range of economic and administrative duties. Since 2014 I am working as Research Associate in the Center for Bacterial Cell Biology at Newcastle University where I am studying distinct aspects of the streptomycetes biology.

Research

My research focus on three main aspects of the biology of the antibiotic-producers streptomycetes:

  1. Control of secondary metabolism. Streptomycetes produce over two-thirds of the clinically useful antibiotics of natural origin today. They also produce other bioactive secondary metabolites, such as antifungal compounds, antitumor agents and immuno-suppressants. The growing gap between the increasing frequency of multidrug-resistant bacteria emerging and the decline in development of new antibiotics makes the discovery and development of novel antibacterial agents an important challenge for science. However, most of the secondary metabolites gene clusters are not expressed under laboratory conditions. Therefore, new insights into antibiotic production regulatory mechanisms are of most important for the discovery of new bioactive compounds.
  2. Glycopeptide resistance regulation in Streptomyces coelicolor. The majority of the existing bacteria have developed some level of resistance to antibiotics and, what it is worse; many important pathogens have become resistant to many, or even all, available antibiotics. The problem of antimicrobial resistance is even more serious by the fact that few new antibiotics have been developed over the last decades; making crucial the development of new strategies to attack bacteria. Glycopeptides, such as vancomycin, are used as last resort antibiotic treatments for many important bacterial infections. The onset of vancomycin resistance since its introduction in clinics was long-delayed (almost 30 years) in comparison to all other antibiotics. For example, only one or two years after the adoption of penicillin in clinics, resistance was reported. Worryingly, vancomycin resistance has spread to important pathogens like for example Enterococcus faecium or Staphylococcus aureus; major hospital-acquired pathogens. Glycopeptide resistance clusters are found both in the glycopeptide-producing actinomycetes (e.g. Amycolatopsis orientalis, Streptomyces toyocaensis) and also in some non-glycopeptide-producing actinomycetes such as Streptomyces coelicolor. This last bacterium offers a safety (no infection risks) and convenient system (many genetic tools have been developed in the last decades) for the in vivo study of important aspects involve in the resistance mechanism.
  3. Control of cell division. Although several groups have been working on various cell cycle problems in streptomycetes, much less is known about this general area of their biology in comparison with other bacteria like Bacillus subtilis or Escherichia coli. However, Streptomyces biology brings with it a number of very interesting problems that are not addressable in those other organisms, including: (i) cell wall growth at the tips of filaments (involving the DivIVA protein) rather than the more common intercalating, MreB-dependent mode of cylindrical elongation. That makes DivIVA (normally a non-essential protein in most bacteria) essential in Streptomyces; (ii) hyphal branching as a means of increasing the overall growth rate; (iii) it appears that several genes that are essential in many other organisms turn out apparently to be non-essential in S. coelicolor; most notably the central cell division protein, FtsZ; (iv) in spite of having streptomycetes a huge number of cell-wall hydrolytic enzymes and conserved genes of the divisome, cytokinesis and cell separation is a rare event of their cell cycle. Understanding the mechanisms that control the cell division process is not only important for solving questions such as how life evolved, but also for interfering with essential functions in pathogenic bacteria; thereby facilitating the development of antibiotics with novel modes of action.

Teaching

  • TEACHING ACTIVITIES

18/11/2013 – 29/11/2013: Assistant teacher at the University of Cantabria (Spain)

           Masters in Molecular Biology and Biomedicine. “Molecular and Cellular Microbiology”. 

01/10/2006 – 30/06/2008: Assistant teacher at the University of León (Spain)

          BSc subjects: “Microbiology” and “Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology”.

  • SUPERVISION OF GRADUATE STUDENTS

01/02/2015 – 31/07/2015:                                MRes student co-supervisor

Medical School, Institute for Cell and Molecular Biosciences, Newcastle University (UK).

01/09/2011 – 31/08/2015:                                PhD student co-supervisor

Institute of Biotechnology of León (INBIOTEC), University of León (Spain).

Publications