THE 2019 BOOMERANG AWARD: GAVIN KNOTT
University of California, Berkeley
Dr Gavin Knott began his research career in the Department of Molecular Sciences at the University of Western Australia in 2009 working with Associate Professor Martha Ludwig. Here, he studied the molecular evolution of the C3 and C4 photosynthetic pathways, sequencing diverse homologues of β-carbonic anhydrase. This work catalysed his interest in protein structure–function relationships, driving him to carry out his third-year project and BSc Honours research in the lab of structural biologist Professor Charles Bond at the University of Western Australia. Working with postdoctoral fellow Mihwa Lee, Gavin sought to purify and crystallise Drosophila behaviour/human splicing (DBHS) proteins; disease relevant nucleic acid binding proteins that are critical components of subnuclear bodies called paraspeckles. Gavin explored the molecular evolution of DBHS protein family and later determined the structure of an ancestral ortholog, PSF-1. For his Honours work, he was awarded the JWH Lugg Medal and Faculty of Life and Physical Sciences Medal.
Receiving a Hackett Postgraduate Scholarship, Gavin delved deeper into the molecular mechanisms of DBHS proteins as a PhD candidate co-supervised by Professor Charles Bond and Associate Professor Archa Fox. Gavin’s research aimed to structurally and biophysically characterise DBHS protein dimerisation and RNA binding, work he carried out in collaboration with Professor Sasi Conte at King’s College London, UK. Gavin went on to describe methods for DBHS protein purification, determined the first crystal structure of the NONO homodimer, and provided insights into RNA recognition using small-angle X-ray scattering and binding studies.
Enamoured with the structural plasticity of RNA–protein interactions and the role of non-coding RNA in regulating gene expression, Gavin accepted a position at the University of California, Berkeley, beginning his postdoctoral training under the guidance of Professor Jennifer Doudna. In 2017, Gavin published one of the first structures of the bacterial RNA-targeting adaptive immune complex, CRISPR-Cas13, revealing how the protein accommodates a guide RNA and positions its RNase catalytic centre for pre-crRNA processing. In 2018, he was awarded a Sir Keith Murdoch Fellowship from the American Australian Association and published a landmark review in Science describing the current reach and impact of CRISPR-Cas biotechnology. In early 2019, Gavin received a Robin Anders Young Investigator Award to attend the Lorne Protein conference where he presented his recent work describing the molecular mechanisms evolved by bacteriophage to evade CRISPR-Cas adaptive immunity.
Gavin thanks the ASBMB for the exciting opportunity to present his work at the ASBMB meeting in Perth and looks forward to engaging with research labs in Melbourne and Sydney.