Science communication reimagined: using cleavage to attract you to science
A young scientist at UTS is using research on ‘cleavage’ as a catalyst for a potential future in science communication.
Michael Widjaja is completing his PhD on proteomics and microbiology at the UTS ithree Institute for Infection, Immunity and Innovation.
His passion for communicating his research recently earnt him the Best Poster Presentation Award at the 2nd Proteomics & Beyond 2014 Symposium.
“I am hoping to be a science communicator for the general public so that I can educate them about microbiology,” Michael said. “Seeing peoples’ faces light up when something in their brain clicks and they understand my research just makes my day.”
Michael’s research focuses on cleavage in tiny bacteria called Mycoplasma pneumoniae that causes pneumonia in humans.
“I am specifically looking at proteins and I like to think of proteins as “tools” that all cells use to do everything,” he said. “These include eating, communicating with other cells, waste removal, and in the case of bad bacteria, causing disease.”
During his research, Michael has found that the cleaving of proteins in Mycoplasma pneumoniae has led to a generation of more proteins that cause disease, whereas traditionally, the cleaving of proteins disables them.
Although cleavage has been found in this area of research before, Michael has discovered far more cleavage than what was previously known. He is now in pursuit of an explanation of what effect this cleavage has on the bacteria.
“Cleavage is a thing in bacteria and a lot more bacteria have cleavage than what we thought,” he said. “I found cleavage through affinity chromatography experiments which is a technique that looks at the interaction of proteins.
“One hypothesis, based on other bacteria, is that this cleavage is used as a distraction from antibiotics and the immune system.
“So instead of targeting the bacteria, the immune systems targets these cleaved proteins.”
As well as writing up the findings of his PhD research this year, Michael has also taken up many opportunities to communicate his research to school groups and the general public.
He has spoken at international and national conferences, was a finalist in Fresh Science and FameLab (NSW) and participated in ‘Speed Meet a Scientist’ during National Science Week.
Michael hopes to increase the healthiness of people in society by identifying a way to discontinue cleavage patterns.
“I hope to find out what Mycoplasma pneumoniae uses cleavage for and then scientists can find a way to stop this cleavage and hopefully eliminate infections by Mycoplasma pneumoniae,” he said.
You can follow Michael on twitter.