Dr Paul Gary Young

PhD Molecular Medicine (University of Auckland); MSc Medicine (First Class Honours) (University of Auckland); BSc Biochemistry / Molecular Genetics (Massey University)


Paul is a Research Fellow in Structural Biology at the School of Biological Sciences. His current research involves using Xray-crystallography and electron microscopy to solve the structures of various proteins involved in bacterial pathogenesis, which include proteins involved in bacterial pili generation and adhesion. He leads a Health Research Council funded project that is developing multi-component vaccines that spontaneously covalently ligate together within bacteria.

Research | Current

Research interests

We have projects focused on cell adhesins from GAS. The surface of S. pyogenes is decorated with numerous virulence factors to aid adhesion and colonization. Prominent amongst GAS virulence factors are pili. Pili (or fimbriae) are proteinaceous filaments that extend from the bacterial surface. They are involved in cell adhesion and biofilm formation.

We are interested in the structure of pilins and the mechanism of pilus assembly. The structures of pilins have been instrumental in understanding how they are assembled, why they are incredibly stable and how the adhesion at the tip works. GAS pili are built from multiple copies of a single major or backbone pilin (BP), that forms the shaft, with an adhesive pilin at the tip and typically an anchor pilin at the base, all covalently linked like beads on a string.

Furthermore, as pili are highly immunogenic we are currently investigating the use of the pilins as a target for a vaccine against GAS. We are also developing other multi-component vaccines against GAS and Staphylococcus aureus. Our research aims to develop a radical new method for producing multi-component complexed protein vaccines using a spontaneously-forming scaffold. Our extremely stable protein scaffold, which captures and glues multiple antigens together in a precisely defined way, is engineered utilising intramolecular ester bonds that we discovered in the bacterial proteins. Our goal is to incorporate this scaffold into laboratory bacteria to create a system that pre-assembles a complex multi-component vaccine that can be produced with a simple ‘one-step’ purification.

Other new projects/interests include the engineering of enzymes to degrade plastics and the use of electron diffraction to solve protein structures from microcrystals.

Areas of expertise

Synthetic biology, protein engineering, protein expression and purification. Structural biology, protein characterization by X-ray crystallography, small-angle X-ray scattering and electron microscopy.


Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)


Contact details

Primary office location

New Zealand

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