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Felipe Cava

PhD Umeå University Medicine Year of admission: 2012

For protection from the environment, bacteria have tough walls. Felipe Cava will map how different strains construct their walls. The knowledge can be used for future development of antibiotics.

One of the past century’s great medical leaps was the discovery of penicillin. The substance kills bacteria by inhibiting the construction of their cell wall. Normally, the wall consists of long cross-linked molecules called peptidoglycans. Penicillin inhibits the cross-linking.

Over the past few decades, researchers’ interest in bacteria cell walls has cooled. Current knowledge is limited to a few strains and has been developed under unnatural laboratory conditions. Now Felipe Cava, a scientist at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (Spain), is waking up this slumbering area of research. In an ambitious project, he will chart the characteristics of cell walls from a thousand different bacterial strains and how the environment can affect their construction.  

Among other things, Cava has discovered that certain bacteria release substances called non-canonical D-amino acids (NCDAA) into their surroundings. NCDAA can damage or reinforce the construction of other strains’ walls. Such interactions can influence our intestinal flora. Cava hopes that deeper knowledge about bacterial cell walls can contribute to the development of new antibiotics.

As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, Cava is offered to transfer to Umeå University.