Tackling antimicrobial resistance head-on

Recent studies have shed light on the molecular evolution of resistance and the efficacy of different antibiotic dosing regimens.

Novel strategies for diagnosis and treatment of fungal infections

The Aspergillus-specific monoclonal antibody JF5 enables in vivo imaging of invasive pulmonary aspergillosis.

Microbes and Disease

Our research focus

The Microbes and Disease group focuses on understanding microbial systems, from the molecular and cellular level through to the population and community level, and defining the complex interactions between microbes and their hosts. Our research primarily focuses on bacterial and fungal pathogens of humans and animals, utilizing a range of methods including functional and comparative genomics, single-cell microfluidics, cellular and molecular biology, structural biology, population biology, mathematical modelling and molecular imaging. Working alongside industrial and clinical partners, the integration of these approaches enables us to address major global challenges associated with infectious diseases and the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance.

Research specialisms include:

  • emergence, evolution and epidemiology of infectious diseases;
  • evolution of virulence traits and antimicrobial resistance;
  • microbial physiology and its association with antimicrobial tolerance and virulence;
  • microbial signal transduction and stress adaptation;
  • microbial epitopes as candidates for vaccines and immunodiagnostics; and
  • molecular determinants of virulence and their role in shaping host-microbe interactions.

We have strong links with colleagues in the Fungal Biology and Plant Biology & Plant-Microbe Interactions research groups.

Recent research highlights

Decision making mechanisms in the choice between acute and chronic infection

Bacteria use sensory networks to control their virulence. These networks detect threats and decide upon appropriate responses. A study led by Steve Porter investigated decision making within the GacS network of the opportunistic pathogen, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. The study uncovered three novel and distinct mechanisms that allow different sensors to communicate with one another during the choice between acute and chronic modes of infection. 

Francis VI et al. (2018). Nat. Commun. 9(1):2219.

Immune cells can recognize different virus strains

Research led by Harry White and colleagues at the universities of Exeter, Bristol and Birmingham has identified immune cells that should be good targets for vaccines that protect against multiple virus strains. Flu vaccines need to be updated every year because viruses like Flu and Dengue are constantly mutating, thus presenting a moving target difficult to immunize against. Current vaccines only provide protection against particular strains, but this study shows that certain immune cells can recognize virus variants and produce good antibodies against them.

Burton BR et al. (2018). Elife 7:e26832. | Read more here.

The health benefits of the oral microbiome

Mark van der Giezen and colleagues at the University of Exeter’s Medical School and Cardiff University have revealed that naturally-occurring bacteria in the mouth are helping to reduce blood pressure in older people. The nitrate found in leafy green vegetables is converted by the oral microbiome into bioaccessible nutrients that have health benefits. This work suggests that dietary intervention is a useful strategy for healthy ageing.

Vanhatalo A et al. (2018). Free Radic. Biol. Med. 124: 21-30.

Multiple sclerosis may be linked to sheep disease toxin

A research team led by Rick Titball has shown that exposure to epsilon toxin, which is normally found in sheep, could be linked to the development of multiple sclerosis (MS) in humans. The study, published in the Multiple Sclerosis Journal, found that people with MS are more likely than other people to have antibodies against the epsilon toxin, suggesting they have been exposed to the toxin in the past.

Wagley S et al. (2018). Multiple Sclerosis. [Epub ahead of print]. | Read more here.

Understanding how sleeping bacteria can survive drug treatment

Using a miniaturised device which enables researchers to isolate and study single bacteria over time, a team led by Stefano Pagliara has provided insight on the mechanisms allowing sleeper cells to survive antibiotic treatment. This research opens up new ways to tackle the current antibiotic resistance crisis.

Bamford RA et al. (2017). BMC Biol. 15(1):121. | Read more here.