2024 Bonn-St Andrews Collaborative Research Grant Awards Announced

Harriet Sheridan
Wednesday 24 January 2024

St Andrews’ partnership with the University of Bonn spans more than a century. Student exchange, a collaborative programme, joint supervision of PhD students, professional staff exchange, a joint appointment scheme, and numerous reciprocal delegation visits have helped shape a truly dynamic and long-lasting strategic partnership. A cornerstone of the partnership has always been the ambitious research collaboration that has taken place between our two institutions. Collaborators and research teams have repeatedly come together to combine research expertise, resources and facilities to not only address some of the most pressing challenges facing society but to expand the frontier of knowledge. The Bonn-St Andrews Collaborative Research Grant programme has supported this endeavour by funding ten outstanding research projects across various disciplines since it’s establishment in 2020.

Following an incredibly competitive application round, the Global Office is delighted to announce that three new collaborative projects have been awarded funding in 2024. Led by principal investigators from the Schools of Physics and Astronomy, Biology, Chemistry, and Medicine at St Andrews, these projects showcase the innovation and world-leading research ecosystems found at Bonn and St Andrews. Research teams will collaborate over the next two years, meeting both in-person and online, to drive forward these projects and continue to enhance the institutional partnership.

Reflecting on this year’s CRG awards, Professor Stephen Gethins, Assistant Vice-Principal (International Strategy and External Relations), commented:

Our partnership with Bonn is one of our deepest and longest-standing. The exchange of ideas and complementary work, as well as the personal relationships that have been built up, help to deliver world-class at both of our institutions. This helps deliver the hard-won reputation for academic excellence, as well as deepening the international partnerships that are key to our success.


 ‘G4-unwinding mechanism of Pif1 helicases during replication: the mechanics of removing DNA roadblocks’

Helicases are proteins present across all domains of life and crucial to many processes that require the unwinding of the double DNA helix to expose the genetic sequence so it can be copied and, if damaged, repaired to prevent disease. They are also fundamental to remove knotted structures that act as roadblocks for normal function of proteins along DNA. These structures called guanine quadruplexes (GQ) appear in guanine-rich DNA segments and have been linked to cancer progression. This St Andrews-Bonn collaborative project, together with Prof. Katrin Paeschke, will investigate a specific helicase, Pif1, that it is able to unwind the usual DNA helix, but it is unknown how it proceeds when encountering these GQ roadblocks. This project will enable us to leverage the combined expertise from both labs so that we can target this problem more efficiently and from multiple and complementary angles. Our overarching aim is to develop methods to visualize Pif1 helicases removing G4s as it happens in real time, one by one and step by step, and by doing so, lead to new information and strategies for therapeutic intervention.

The awarding of this collaborative project with Katrin, a leading expert in guanine quadruplexes, is a game changer and a unique opportunity for both labs to unravel the mystery of roadblock removal at the highest level of detail. We also envisage this as a unique opportunity for training students in cross-disciplinary research and to build additional links across both institutions. Professor Carlos Penedo, School of Physics and Astronomy, and School of Biology





‘Illuminating synthetic replicator networks—towards controlling and positioning autonomous chemical systems’

The survival of living organisms relies on their ability to make the right material, at the right time in the right place. Biochemistry has evolved exquisite control mechanisms that allow chemical events to occur only where and when they are needed. Modern chemistry, on the other hand, takes an engineering approach to the same problem—requiring physical interventions at every stage. This collaboration is centred in the emerging field of systems chemistry which attempts to recast the complexity of biological systems in a wholly chemical context. The ultimate goal of our lab is to create artificial chemical systems that can perform specific functions autonomously by mimicking the “right thing, right place, right time” capability of living organisms. In this project, we will combine expertise at St Andrews on molecular replication and autonomous systems with expertise from Bonn on using light to switch the state of molecules precisely and reversibly. This collaboration will allow us to create chemical networks that can synthesise specific molecules in response to molecular instructions (the right material), through processes that can be switched on and off by light (at the right time), and whose location can be controlled in a programmed manner (in the right place).

We are extremely grateful to be awarded this grant that will allow the labs in St Andrews and Bonn to collaborate on a multi-faceted project that combines the expertise in both locations. Systems chemistry is a new and rapidly expanding research area. Therefore, in addition to the scientific objectives of the project, we are keen to create a lasting impact from this grant by inspiring students and early career researchers through planned teaching and training exchanges.Professor Douglas Philp, School of Chemistry





‘SLIC as a point of care diagnostic for infected joints’

Bacterial infections are becoming more difficult to treat on a global scale due to increasing antimicrobial resistance. Infections in native or prosthetic large joints, such as the hip and knee are largely dealt with via antibiotic therapy and adjunct surgery which is normally needed. To address this two-fold problem of antimicrobial resistance and joint infections we propose the use of a novel diagnostic technology: SLIC (Scattered Light Integrating Collector) which can detect tiny numbers of bacteria and deduce whether they are resistant to common antibiotics. Importantly, SLIC can do this in a very short timeframe, typically less than 30 minutes. This project combines the research teams here in St Andrews and Bonn to use SLIC along with the extensive biobank at University of Bonn to develop this.

We are very grateful to receive this grant which will help bring together researchers from both institutions (St Andrews & Bonn), as well as enabling this project, which has the potential to speed up accurate diagnosis of joint infection and guide treatment. –Dr Phil Walmsley, School of Medicine

Photo features project collaborators from Bonn and St Andrews.




The Bonn-St Andrews Collaborative Research Grant programme is an annual call. We expect the 2025 call to launch in May 2024. If you have any questions about this programme or if you are interested in joining the Bonn Special Interest Group, please contact the Global Office at [email protected].







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