Favourite Thing: Writing a computer code to answer a biological question. Medical Microbiology is being revolutionised by being able to affordably sequence hundreds or thousands of microbial genomes and understand the genetic basis for their biology, how they evolved and how they might yet change.
Barry Comprehensive School 2002-2009. Swansea University 2009-2012. Cardiff University 2012-2013. University of Liverpool 2013-Present.
BSc Genetics. MSc Bioinformatics
No science jobs yet! I’ve been a bingo caller, sports photographer, lifeguard and worked in Iceland (the shop).
Medical Microbiology PhD Student
Institute of Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool.
Me and my work
In the second year of my PhD, I’m comparing the genes of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that infects the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis.
Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic condition, which causes difficult breathing, clearing mucus from the lungs and is for life. The lifespan of patients with CF has increased substantially but their lungs remain at risk from various microbes.
The leading cause of lung disease and death in cystic fibrosis patients is lung infection by the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa; normally harmless, but in various people – such as those in hospital with burns, wounds or undergoing surgery – it can be harmful and even fatal.
There is a great amount of variation between separate isolates of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, for example those isolated from a CF lung in Spain or a lake in Australia will have different genes and variations of common genes.
To better understand this bacteria The International Pseudomonas aeruginosa Genomics Consortium based in Canada is sequencing 2,000 whole genomes of this bug; that is, all of its DNA.
It’s my job, working with the consortium and with a particular strain, The Liverpool Epidemic Strain, to better understand the genetic basis of how Pseudomonas aeruginosa causes disease, why some are more or less harmful, how it spreads and how it acquires antibiotic resistance genes.
Ultimately, this gene data will be incorporated with patient data of the past to fit statistical models and machine learning algorithms (artificial intelligence), to predict in the future which strains of Pseudomonas aeruginosa or even genetic variants of that strain will have a poorer outcome for the patient, upon infection.
This research is funded by the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
My Typical Day
Attempting to write new computer programs or understand my results!
When I’m at the computer I’ll be using other people’s software or writing my own to analyse DNA data from Pseudomonas aeruginosa and attempting to better understand its biology as a result. This might involve comparison of hundreds of these bacterial genomes, each with 6 million ‘bits’ of DNA.
When I’m in the lab I’ll be plating bacteria, allowing them to grow overnight and then extracting DNA from them, copying small chunks of their DNA I’m interested in or checking which antibiotics kill them and which don’t!
What I'd do with the money
I would buy lots of ‘Bacterial Top Trumps’ cards to play and give away as prizes at future public engagement days with my institute.
I was given a pack of these cards last year at the Society for General Microbiology Conference and thought they were brilliant! They’re produced by Queen Mary, University of London and each card features a different bacteria which two people can play against each other.
Included on the cards are the bacteria’s size, number of genes, year identified, number of people it makes sick and overall danger factor!
Included are Pseudomonas aeruginosa (which I work on!) and also Yersinia pestis which causes the bubonic plague and Bacillus anthracis that causes anthrax to compete against each other.
I myself found these fun and informative so think they would be a great thing to spend the money on and distribute at public engagement events with my institute!
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Interested, ambitious and daft.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
Way too many to narrow down! Perhaps the rapper, Nas.
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Camp America, working on a lake at a summer camp in the mountains of upstate New York.
What did you want to be after you left school?
Vet then Medical Researcher then Pro surfer then National Geographic Photojournalist and finally Medical Researcher.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
No comment :)
What was your favourite subject at school?
What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?
Finding out, by looking at their genes, which bacteria can produce antibiotics to kill off other bacteria!
What or who inspired you to become a scientist?
I was always curious how stuff works and was excited to think that all diseases must ultimately have a cure, provided enough knowledge and technological advances. My A-level Biology teacher, Mr Jones was a fantastic and engaging teacher and I also felt encouraged to continue with science by my undergraduate dissertation supervisor, Prof Skibinski.
If you weren't a scientist, what would you be?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
To never be bored, move back to the beach and win the Nobel Prize.
Tell us a joke.
Two atoms walk into the bar, one says to the other “you alright mate? You look a bit down?” he replies “No, I’m not ok, I think I’ve lost an electron”, “are you sure!?”, he replies worried. “Yes, I’m positive”. :’)
More Pseudomonas, producing different colours on different sides of the plate here!
Some lovely Pseudomonas ready to have their DNA extracted!
Me hard at work?
The PacBio DNA sequencer next door, there are only a handful of these in Europe!
Plenty of Pseudomonas growing in the warm room overnight 🙂
My first proper conference poster: