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Dr Viji Sarojini

PhD (Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and BHU)

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Senior Lecturer

Biography

  • PhD. BHU, Varanasi & IISc. Bangalore, India (with Prof. R.B.Rao & Prof P. Balaram)

Non-protein Amino Acids in Peptide Design

  • Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Linkoping University, Sweden (with Prof Lars Baltzer).

Control of Folding and Function in Synthetic Polypeptides  and Glycopeptides

  • Research Fellow, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK

Synthetic Peptides to study Membrane-Protein Interactions

  • Research Associate, Texas A&M University, Texas, USA

Analysis of post-trastional modifications in Human Toll-Like Receptor Protein 3 (hTLR-3)

  • Post-doctoral Research Scientist, HortResearch, Auckland, New Zealand

Antibacterial Peptides against Fire Blight of Pome Fruits

 

Research | Current

Peptides in Food, Drug, Health and Materials

Peptides are an initeresting class of molecules with applications in agriculture, biology, medicine, food and material sciences. Peptides have evolved in nature to take on highly spcific functions, have great potency and are much smaller than recombinant proteins and antibodies. The filed of therapeutic peptides is undergoing a very exciting revival owing to substances technological progresses during the last decade.

Peptide-macromolecular interactions modulate several biological functions. The development of biologically active peptides is an area of immense research interest. However, inherent conformational flexibility and susceptibility to proteases are two major drawbacks that limit the use of peptides made up of the twenty protein amino acids as drugs. Backbone and side-chain modifications are used as a means of controlling conformational flexibility and protease stability in the design of biologically active peptides and synthetic mimics of protein structures. The major focus of my research is the denovo design, synthesis and structure activity studies of bioactive peptides.

We use Solid Phase Peptide Synthesis following Fmoc- chemistry as well as conventional solution phase peptide synthesis procedures. The peptide sequences are tailor made from naturally occurring proteins. Polypeptide Modelling software is made use of for this purpose. Structure-activity studies of the synthetic peptides are carried out in order to optimise the structure for specific applications.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) and Circular Dichroism (CD) are used to elucidate the secondary structure of synthetic peptides. Of particular interest to the group are

  • Peptide Nanomaerials
  • Antimicrobial Peptides against Multi Drug Resistant (MDR) Biofilms
  • Antifreeze Peptides for Frozen Food Preservation
  • Multifunctional Anticancer Peptides with increased tumor selectivity
  • Cell Penetrating Peptides for Drug Delivery
  • Biomarkers
  • Polypeptide Biosensors
  • Self-assembling Peptides
  • Non-protein amino acids in Peptide Design
  • Synthetic strategies for novel linear and cyclc lipopeptides


Current projects

  • Targeted Anticancer Peptides (Collaboration with Auckland Cancer Society Research Centre)

Through this project, we aim to develop the fundamentals of selective anticancer chemotherapy using peptides as targeting moieties. Multifunctional peptides incorporating novel and advanced design features with the potential to realize enhanced tumor selectivity and potency are being developed in a multi-disciplinary collaboration with Ditinguished Professor Bill Denny (ACSRC) and the School of Pharmacy. Anticancer Peptide conjugated liposomes are used for enhanced cellular internalization. General properties of peptide grafted liposome nanoparticles are studied.

 

  • Antimicrobial Peptides against Multi Drug Resitant Biofilms

Biofilms are matrix-embedded microorganisms adhering to biotic and abiotic surfaces including human tissues and are impervious to drugs. Biofilm forming bacteria exhibit multiple drug resistance (MDR) and this phenomenon is becoming increasingly prevalent amongst human, animal and plant pathogens. Infections from bacterial biofilms cause high health costs as well as economic loss in agriculture. Our screening program last year identified peptide based structures that reduce the formation of biofilms in certain bacterial species. Further research is being carried out to explore the mechanism of action of these lead molecules and elucidate their Structure Activity Relationships. This research has significant implications in the treatment of chronic infections such as those caused by Pseudomonas aeruginosa in cystic fibrosis patients because existing antibiotic therapy has not been successful in killing bacterial biofilms, the most common cause of persistent infections.

  • Antifreeze Peptides: Frozen Food Industry Applications

Synthetic peptide analogues of naturally occuurring Anti-Freeze Proteins (AFPs) are studied to better understand their function and potential in frozen food applications. Naturally occurring AFPs exhibit properties of ice-recrystalization inhibition. The ability of AFPs to influenze the size, morphology and aggregation of ice crystals can be used in food technology where the growth of ice crystals in frozen foods is of primary concern. This project is carried out in collaboration with the Food Science Group at UoA.

  • Protein Based Medical Adhesives

Medical adhesives form an important component of the surgical toolbox and provide an interesting area for research and development. Naturally occurring adhesive proteins have attracted the attention of scientists due to their incredible adhesive strength and biocompatibility. In this project we aim to synthetise short adhesive peptides and study their adhesive properties to various surfaces like medically relevant metals, teflon and other plastic under different temperatures and moisture conditions. Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) as well as fatigue failure test will be used to evaluate the binding force between the adhesive and the surface. Applications of these peptides include embedding antibiotics into the adhesive to prevent surface colonisation of medical implants by bacteria well as its potential as a surgical sealant for wound closure. This project is done in collaboration is done in collaboration with Faculty of Engineering, UoA.

 

  • Branched Peptide Therapeutics

The concept of a ‘Magic Bullet’ coined by Paul Elrich a century ago can now be attributed to target specific molecules like peptides. Modern day technologies, especially the combinatorial synthesis and screening of peptides, have resulted in the development of dozens of peptides as clinical trial candidates for various diseases. Despite this, there still exists some industrial reluctance to use peptides as drugs, mainly because of their short half-lives. Branched peptides exhibit strong resistance to proteases and are hence suitable candidates for the development of peptide based drugs. I am interested in developing synthetic proteins with a branched structure. An ongoing project in this direction makes use of Native Chemical Ligation to stitch together a pore forming peptide to a designed helix.

 

  • Development of Peptide Antibiotics for Fire Blight and Bacterial Canker of Kiwi Fruit

This project aims to develop antimicrobial peptides with potency against PSA of Kiwi Gold and Fire Blight of pome fruits in a cost-effective manner. Our strategy focusses on tailoring large polypeptides into shorter sequences and developing novel antimicrobial peptides which are simple to synthesize in a cost-effective manner. This is achieved through rational design, synthesis and bioassay guided analysis.

 

  • DNA Binding Peptides Targetting Type III Secretion Pathway in the Fire Blight Pathogen, Erwinia amylovora (Collaboration with Plant and Food Research)

Erwinia amylovora is a biofilm forming Gram negative bacterium that causes Fire Blight of apple and pear. Fire Blight results in severe economic loss to apple and pear orchardists in New Zealand and several other parts of the world with no effective chemicals for prevention or cure especially because of resistance to streptomycin by the pathogen. The development of new compounds capable of combating this disease is timely and is of particular interest to the NZ apple industry. An ongoing project in my research group is focused on developing novel peptide based structures as chemical control options for Fire Blight. Gram negative bacteria use the Type III Secretion System (TTSS) to synthesise ‘Hrp proteins’ and infect the host. Harpins, the virulent proteins secreted by TTSS of E.amylovora, induce rapid changes in plant cell metabolism thus leading to plant cell death. Mutations in the TTSS gene have been shown to make these bacteria less virulent. Our research aims to develop synthetic peptides with DNA binding ability that can be targeted to specific sites of the TTSS gene of E.amylovora and inactivate it.

 

  • Mimics of Ina Protein: Explolring Surface Frost Damage in Plants, Pseudomonas Syringae as a Model

Phytotoxins are products of plant pathogens or of host-pathogen interactions that directly injure plant cells and cause disease development. Pseudomonas syringae is one such phytopathogenic bacterium that infects a wide range of plant species including the kiwi fruit. In addition to the production of phytotoxins, this bacterium is also characterized by ice nucleation activity through the production of ‘Ina proteins’ which causes severe frost damages in plants, especially when sudden decrease of temperature occurs. Recent outbreak of the bacterial canker that hit the kiwi gold orchards in Italy was caused by P.syringae. We aim to develop synthetic peptide analogues of the ‘Ina proteins' of P.syringae to study their ice nucleation properties.

 

  • Use of non-protein amino acids in protein design
    The use of non-protein amino acids to enhance the in vivo stability of biologically active peptides is another area of research I am interested in. We make use of alpha,alpha-dialkylated amino acids to promote specific secondary structures and folding in designed biologically active peptides.

Teaching | Current

CHEM 230                    Molecules for Life: Synthesis and Reactivity

CHEM 260                    Introduction to Green Chemistry

CHEM 360                    Contemporary Green Chemistry

CHEM 390                    Medicinal Chemistry (Course Coordinator)

CHEM 392                    Issues in Drug Design and Development  (Course Coordinator)

CHM 750                      Advanced Topics in Chemistry

PHARM 211                  Applied Science for Pharmacy

Postgraduate supervision

Research Fellows

Dr Gayan Heruka De Zoysa

Dr Kyriakos Varnava

 

Current Students

PhD

Shama Dissanayakae

Kamal Patel

Jana Ravichandran

Hugh Glossop

Urawadee Rajchakit

Anu Sharma

Aljo Anand

Zhiqing Liang (Monique)

 

MSc 

Saurabh Lamba

PollySun

 

BSc(Hons) 

Simon Lin

Annemarie Pham

 

Previous Students

PhD and MSc

Gayan Heruka De Zoysa (PhD, 2015); Charles Kong (PhD, 2017); Bincy Jacob (PhD, 2017); Alan Cameron (PhD, 2017); Kyriakos Varnava (PhD, 2018) 

 

Anu Sharma (MSc, 2018); Urawadee Rajchakit (MSc, 2017); Bindu Sobil (MSc, 2015); Dhiren Dunraj (MSc, 2013); Sushen Naidoo (MSc, 2014); Charles Kong (MSc, 2012)

 

BSc(Hons) 

Gayan Heruka Dezoysa (2010); Harveen Kaur (2010); Aiko Cefre (2011); Zahir Khan, (2011); Zaid Amso (2012);  Alan Cameron (2012); Shama Dissanayake (2013); Jodeanne Ho, (2013); Cherrie Tollemach (2013);  Mustatfa Naji (2013); Essie Pearl (2015); Hugh Glossop (2016); Jei Yeb Kim (2018)

Responsibilities

Deputy Theme Leader, A Sustainable Future: From the Mountains to the Sea

Deputy Director, Centre for Green Chemical Sciences, University of Auckland

Chair of Post Graduate Committee, School of Chemical Sciences

Areas of expertise

  • Peptide Chemistry
  • Biological Chemistry

Committees/Professional groups/Services

Committees

New Zealand Institute of Chemistry, Auckland Branch

 

Professional Groups

European Peptide Society

New Zealand Institute of Chemistry

International Horticultural Society

 

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Varnava, K. G., & Sarojini, V. (2019). Making Solid-Phase Peptide Synthesis Greener: A Review of the Literature. Chemistry, an Asian journal, 14 (8), 1088-1097. 10.1002/asia.201801807
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Kyriakos Varnava
  • Lee, S., Khun, D., Kumarasinghe, G. L., De Zoysa, G. H., Sarojini, V., Vellara, H. R., ... Thakur, S. S. (2019). Ex vivo evaluation of the stability, safety and antibacterial efficacy of an extemporaneous povidone-iodine preparation for ophthalmic applications. Clinical & experimental optometry10.1111/cxo.12899
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Sachin Thakur, Ilva Rupenthal, Heru De Zoysa
  • Jacob, B., Jüllig M, Middleditch, M., Payne, L., Broom, N., Sarojini, V., & Thambyah, A. (2018). Protein Levels and Microstructural Changes in Localized Regions of Early Cartilage Degeneration Compared with Adjacent Intact Cartilage. Cartilage10.1177/1947603518809401
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Ashvin Thambyah, Neil Broom
  • Glossop, H., De Zoysa, G. H., Valery, C., Hemar, Y., & Sarojini, V. (2018). Ultrashort Self-Assembling Peptides: De Novo Design, Nano Structure Analyses and Antimicrobial Activity. JOURNAL OF PEPTIDE SCIENCE. (pp. 1).
  • Cameron, A. J., Varnava, K. G., Edwards, P. J. B., Harjes, E., & Sarojini, V. (2018). Acyclic peptides incorporating the d-Phe-2-Abz turn motif: Investigations on antimicrobial activity and propensity to adopt β-hairpin conformations. Journal of peptide science : an official publication of the European Peptide Society, 24 (8-9)10.1002/psc.3094
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Alan Cameron, Kyriakos Varnava
  • Cameron, A. J., Varnava, K. G., Edwards, P. J. B., Harjes, E., & Sarojini Amma, V. (2018). Acyclic peptides incorporating the d-Phe-2-Abz turn motif: Investigations on antimicrobial activity and propensity to adopt β-hairpin conformations. Journal of Peptide Science, 1-10. 10.1002/psc.3094.
  • De Zoysa, G. H., Glossop, H. D., & Sarojini, V. (2018). Unexplored antifungal activity of linear battacin lipopeptides against planktonic and mature biofilms of C. albicans. European journal of medicinal chemistry, 146, 344-353. 10.1016/j.ejmech.2018.01.023
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Heru De Zoysa, Hugh Glossop
  • Glossop, H. D., Pearl, E., De Zoysa, G. H., & Sarojini, V. (2018). Linear Analogues of the Lipopeptide Battacin With Potent In Vitro Activity Against S. aureus. (pp. 385-394). 10.1016/bs.apcsb.2018.03.004
    Other University of Auckland co-authors: Heru De Zoysa, Hugh Glossop

Contact details

Primary office location

SCIENCE CENTRE 302 - Bldg 302
Level 8, Room 817
23 SYMONDS ST
AUCKLAND 1010
New Zealand