Hyderabad: Dr. Manjula Reddy, Chief Scientist, CCMB Hyderabad has been awarded the 2019 Infosys Prize for Life Sciences, for her work on understanding the structure and synthesis of the bacterial cell wall. Understanding fundamental steps of bacterial growth and division is critical for the development of new antibiotics. Dr Reddy’s work has revealed a critical step during cell wall synthesis.
Bacteria can grow and divide as fast as once every 20 minutes in a resource-rich environment. To achieve this, they have to rapidly build their cell walls to make two cells from one. A highly specific machinery controls this step, which is absolutely essential for their survival.
For a long time, scientists believed that the existing cell wall needs to be broken in a controlled manner to allow new cell wall to be built. But the existence of a machinery that makes this possible has remained elusive, even though bacteria have been studied for over a hundred years. Using an elegant combination of genetic and biochemical studies, Dr Reddy’s laboratory became the first one to identify the enzymes that carry out controlled cleavage of the cell walls.
Her work has also led to understanding the mechanisms that regulate this fundamental step, which must happen before new cell wall is made. Many of the currently used antibiotics target the final step of cell wall synthesis. Dr Reddy’s work has opened up an avenue for targeting the initial steps of cell wall synthesis.
This discovery is significant in the light of the rising threat of antimicrobial resistance.
The Infosys Prize is awarded annually to honour outstanding achievements of contemporary researchers and scientists across six categories: Engineering and Computer Sciences, Humanities, Life Sciences, Mathematical Sciences, Physical Sciences and Social Sciences, each carrying a prize of a gold medal, a citation and a cash prize of USD 100,000.