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Dicks Laboratory


Main Research Theme: Lactic Acid Bacteria: Taxonomy, antimicrobial peptides (bacteriocins) and probiotic properties
Group Leader: Prof. Leon Dicks
NRF Rating: B1

Contact details:
Office: JC Smuts Building A314
Phone: +27 21 808 5849
​Email: lmtd@sun.ac.za

View Publications

Research overview

Research in the laboratory of Prof Dicks focuses on the identification and classification of lactic acid bacteria isolated from humans, animals, plants and the environment.  Isolates are screened for the production of novel antimicrobial peptides (bacteriocins) and also selected for probiotic properties.  Genes encoding bacteriocin production, and adhesion to epithelial cells and mucus layers are sequenced and expressed in different bacterial hosts.

Most of the research is directed to the medical application of bacteriocins.  Survival of bacteriocins and probiotic bacteria in vivo is studied using mice and rats as models.  Probiotic and pathogenic bacteria are made “visible” in the gut by the expression of genes encoding bioluminescence and fluorescence.  Signals generated from the cells are detected using the in vivo image scanner (IVIS, Caliper Life Sciences).  Further interaction studies are conducted using a computerized gastro-intestinal model (GIM).

Bacteriocins and probiotic cells are protected from the hostile environment in the gut by encapsulation into nanofibers and nanoparticles.  Another project focuses on the effect bacteriocins may have on cancer cells.

Research in collaboration with Electric and Electronic Engineering looks at the possibility of developing a biosensor nanochip to detect pathogens in early infections.

Prof Dicks is a B1-rated scientist.  He serves on the Advisory Board for Probiotics (Copenhagen, Denmark), is Chief Editor of the South African Journal of Enology and Viticulture, and serves on the editorial board of seven ISI-rated Journals.  He collaborates with local, and international scientists in Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, France, Finland, Japan and the USA and serves as consultant to many South African-based companies; lately also a Denmark-based probiotic company (Bifodan). He filed nine patents.

The probiotic entiroTM, developed by the group, is patented in 65 countries (PCT/IB2007/051982) and is available in all major pharmacies in SA.

Main projects
  1. Characterization of novel bacteriocins produced by lactic acid bacteria.
  2. Selection of probiotic lactic acid bacteria and studying their interactions with pathogens, intestinal cells and mucus layers on a genetic level.
  3. Encapsulation of bacteriocins and probiotic cells in nanofibers and nanoparticles prepared from different polymers.
  4. Developing of a mobile nano biosensor to detect low cell numbers of pathogens.