Mike Ferguson was recently awarded a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator Award entitled “Protein glycosylation in trypanosomes: defining and exploiting a biological system”. The award of over £2.3 million will allow Mike’s group to probe the details of how the tsetse fly transmitted parasite that causes human African trypanosomiasis (also known as African sleeping sickness) adds complex sugar chains to its surface molecules.
Trypanosomes have evolved sophisticated mechanisms to evade the innate and adaptive immune responses of the mammalian host and to interact with and colonise the tsetse fly vector. These mechanisms involve proteins with glycan and glycolipid post-translational modifications - some of which are unique and some of which are shared with higher-eukaryotes. Studies on trypanosome protein glycosylation in the Ferguson laboratory provides fundamental information on important and ubiquitous eukaryotic post-translational modifications and also highlight parasite-specific variations that can be exploited for drug discovery.