Our main research interests are in the population genetics of bacterial pathogens of man and have two broad aims: the study of the origins, evolution and diversity of specific bacterial pathogens at the molecular level and improving the control of these pathogens through the application of molecular and epidemiological tools. Recently studies have focused on Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Escherichia coli and Campylobacter.
Mycobacterium tuberculosis is the causative agent of tuberculosis, the greatest cause of mortality in the world due to an infectious agent, indeed one third of the world's population is infected. Why this species apparently has many more genes than current in vitro genomic studies would predict it would need is one of our interests. This species is particularly amenable to phylogenetic experimental approaches and we are examining the commonalities in genome polymorphisms of strains in the different lineages of this species that have caused waves of tuberculosis disease across continents over the evolutionary history of this species. Many of our publications have examined the important role that transposable elements play in the genetic diversification of this species.
Most cases of human enteritis in the developed world are due to sporadic Campylobacter infection, whose epidemiology is poorly understood. We are studying this by identifying cryptic epidemiological links between clinical cases, and between clinical cases and environmental sources of infection, at a national scale. In a Food Standards Agency- Scotland funded study, CaMPS (Campylobacter MLST Project in Scotland) 5,200 clinical isolates submitted to us by the Scottish NHS diagnostic laboratories and 1,200 food and environmental isolates from across Scotland over a 15-month period, have been typed by the genotypic method of Multilocus Sequence Typing (MLST). This is one of the most extensive studies on Campylobacter epidemiology ever undertaken and the findings are being used to develop strategies for the control Campylobacter infection.
I am the co-ordiator for medical microbiology teaching to early stage students in Medicine and in Dentistry.
I teach medical microbiology and microbial genetics and evolution to undergraduate and postgraduate students and to students on pre-University access courses.