The Cell Biology project, which was initiated in 2001, was renamed as Cell Biology in 2009. In 2014 research was focused on three main areas: cyanobacteria, pulmonary diseases and on human gene expression analysis. Cyanobacteria, previously referred to as blue-green algae, are a diverse group of microorganisms that inhabit a wide range of ecological niches and are well known for their toxic secondary metabolite production. The cyanobacterial toxins are potential human health hazards and these are known to occur widely in drinking water sources. Knowledge of the evolution and dispersal of these microorganisms is still limited, and further research to understand such topics is vital. The first study provided information on the enormous diversity and wealth of cyanobacteria and archaea in Sri Lanka. In the second study, we targeted the cyanotoxins as a biological contaminant to establish the value of using molecular, biochemical and bioassay techniques to determine the presence of cyanotoxins in water bodies. Based on cyanobacterial research a PhD was obtained by a Research assistant and another submitted a PhD thesis to the University of Colombo in December 2014.
Mycobacterial strain typing by means of molecular methods has become an important instrument for tuberculosis (TB) surveillance, control and prevention. The study focused on the characterization of Mycobacterium tuberculosis isolates, obtained from patients attending the Central Chest Clinic Kandy, Bogambara prison and from estate workers by Mycobacterial Interspersed Repetitive Unit Variable Number Tandem Repeat (MIRU-VNTR) typing system and Spoligotyping to study the person-to-person transmission of pulmonary TB among different populations. The project is in the final stages of completion and based on the study, an M.Phil thesis was submitted to the Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya in November 2014. A typical mycobacterium is one of the common infections causing organism, which affect immuno suppressive patients and patients with pre-existing lung diseases. From our studies, we were able to optimize a real time PCR assay to differentially detect slow growing and rapidly growing non tuberculous Mycobacteria (NTM) directly from sputum specimens. Currently antibiotic sensitivity testing is being carried out to determine the drug susceptibility patterns of the identified mycobacteria.
The expressions of genes which lead to protein synthesis are known to be influenced by environmental factors. Equally, studying the gene expression of certain tissues could lead to identifying the possible environmental sources influencing them. As such, the expression patterns of certain genes in tissues of chronic kidney disease patients of unknown etiology (CKDu) were studied and compared to the expression patterns in chronic kidney disease patients having known etiology of diabetes or hypertension (CKD) and healthy individuals, to deduce the possible causative agents. We are conducting a pilot study to determine the gene expression patterns for selected genes (drugs, xenobiotics, environmental factors, oxidative stress, heavy metals, diabetics etc. using Microarrays, and Real Time PCR arrays with RNA expressions on human control and diseased patients using blood as the testing tissue. The identification of gene expression patterns (potential biomarker patterns) that are associated with progression of CKDu, will enable us to determine the possible risk factors.
Names and affiliations of the Ph.D., M. Phil, and M.Sc. students