2010 Applied Biosystems Edman Award: Natalie Borg

Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Monash University

Natalie Borg’s PhD research was focused on the structure and function of a glycoprotein integral to the life cycle of the human parainfluenza virus type III. This structural virology project led to the award of her PhD from the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Melbourne, her PhD research having been conducted off-site at the CSIRO.

It was during Natalie’s PhD that she was first exposed to X-ray crystallography as a research tool. X-ray crystallography captured Natalie’s interest because it was a visual measure with which to corroborate functional studies and offered a means to be the first person ever to visualise a molecule. In order to pursue this passion, Natalie began her postdoctoral studies in 2003 when she joined the laboratory of Professor Jamie Rossjohn at Monash University. Her research focus was on the structural and functional characterisation of proteins that are essential to the immune system. Initially, she set about detailing how MHC molecules present peptide antigens to T cell receptors and the influence of MHC polymorphism. Later, Natalie’s research progressed to how MHC-like molecules like CD1d present glycolipid antigens to NKT cell receptors. This highly productive research period resulted in 16 publications, including first author articles in Nature Immunology and Nature. The research published in Nature represented the first structural insight into how an NKT cell receptor recognises a glycolipid antigen presented by CD1d. The research showed that the recognition event differed markedly to that of peptide antigen recognition. Natalie subsequently presented this research at the plenary session of a Keystone Symposium on NK and NKT Cell Biology.

In 2006, Natalie received a Monash University Dean’s Award for excellence in research and an NHMRC Peter Doherty Fellowship. In 2008, Natalie received a Victorian Young Tall Poppy award for her science communication endeavours, a L’Oréal Australia ‘Women in Science Fellowship’ and an NHMRC Career Development Award. With these tools in hand, Natalie established her own research laboratory within the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Monash University.

Her current research interests stem from her research exposures to date and are focused on how the innate immune system is regulated by ubiquitin and ubiquitin-like molecules. Natalie is also interested in how viruses manipulate these regulatory mechanisms to avoid immune detection and enhance their own survival. Natalie’s research uses X-ray crystallography as a research tool coupled with cellular and biophysical studies.