Julia Dorin's research focus is on the function of host defence peptides by studying the consequence of their dysfunction in the mouse. Currently this approach is revealing their involvement in infertility, obesity and immunomodulation.
Host defence peptides are the natural antibiotics produced by almost all living things. Their production is believed to be important in protection from pathogens but in more complex organisms it may be that the multigene families of these peptides have evolved to have diverse functions. They are key in innate immunity and link to adaptive immune processes. It has become clear that the dysregulation of innate immunity processes can lead to the destructive inflammation central to many human diseases.
Currently I am working on a multigene family of antimicrobial peptides called β-defensins which are astonishingly potent against yeast, bacteria and viruses and recognised as major players in innate immunity and yet deletion of these genes results in novel and exciting phenotypes. They are expressed at mucosal surfaces when induced but are highly expressed normally in male and female reproductive tract. I have shown that these molecules are both important in protection from infection and in immune modulation in vitro and in vivo. I have recently developed single gene, clade specific and whole locus deletions of these genes to reveal their full in vivo functional repertoire. I have recently published (Zhou et al 2013) the profound male infertility phenotype we observe when a subset of defensin genes are deleted and reveal a novel function of these genes in sperm maturation and control of calcium influx into sperm cells. This cluster of β-defensins in human (but not in mouse) is highly copy number variable (varies between 1 and 16 in human populations). Deletion of the whole 31 gene locus in the mouse is revealing a diverse series of inflammatory phenotypes and I am investigating their relevance to human disease.
Hours of work
I have a strong interest in stimulating children’s interest in biology. I have been a contributer to the Dunbar Science festival weekend for many years. The festival attracts over 3,500 paying attendees every year.
I produced a Gene Genius workshop, making models of DNA from sweets and getting almost 300 children involved extracting DNA from lentils and dried peas. The workshop was highlighted at the Dunbar Science Festival 2012. In 2013 I developed a variant of the game based on the Genetics of Harry Potter. The 2014 event was a collaboration with Dr Rebecca Scott (CRUK IGMM) to do balloon cells and taste testing, and in 2015 we developed Gene Genius and Cell Investigator into a classroom workshop every hour over two days (7 and 8 March 2015). We discussed gene contribution to disease, a taste test for the ability to taste bitter tastes, made slides of cheek cells, demonstrated use of light in cell imaging, and made cells with balloons containing various organelles for over 8 year olds.
Both Rebecca Scott and I also contribute to workshops in Dunbar Science Club. We make DNA from lentils and make and pair DNA strands made from pipe cleaners.