Congratulations to Imaging CoE AI Michelle Dunstone

Michelle tells us a little about her hole-punching research and her goals for her ARC Future Fellowship.


1. Can you tell us a little about your research?

My research looks at a group of proteins that stick to a cell surface and then join together to form a ring. This ring then punches a hole in the cell.

Currently my studies are directed toward understanding how the immune system uses these hole-punching proteins to kill bacteria.

However, hole-punching proteins are used by all walks of life in a “defend or die” world. Some are used as venoms by fish, some are used by the immune system to kill cancer cells and some are used by bacteria to kill our cells in disease. There is huge potential in studying all of these hole punching proteins.

The way we study how these proteins look and work is to take thousands and thousands of images which can be very difficult, time consuming and can miss out on vital information. I want to study individual proteins and be able to see how they punch holes in real-time.


2. You’ve just been awarded an ARC Future Fellowship; how do you feel?

I am absolutely honoured and feel over the moon!! This fellowship validates my research and my passion for cutting edge research.

The Future Fellowships scheme supports research in areas of critical national importance and they speak to the value of basic fundamental research. The scheme also speaks to the value of the researcher as a future leader.


3. What would be the dream achievement for your research?

There are many different hole punching proteins, it would be great to have a better understanding of every aspect of every hole punching protein. My ultimate dream is to understand these proteins in exquisite detail so we can manipulate them to help fight cancer and bacteria.

Over the next five years I will be looking at individual molecules with a goal of understanding how they change shape over real-time. The ultimate aim of this is to develop new biotechnology for industry and keep Australia at the forefront of science.

I also aim to build and lead a robust and thriving research team to drive the future development of Australian research and commercialisation of that research.


4. So why the hole punchers?

I’m actually fascinated about how these proteins can find the right target cell, self-assemble and then punch into the cell. This requires a massive, controlled and intricate change in shape — they are beautiful proteins.

Ultimately, my aim is to understand these hole-punching proteins so well that we can use the knowledge to modify them for different biotechnology applications. Whether this be killing cancerous cells, killing antibiotic resistant bacteria or controlling crop eating pests.