Microbiology

Our interests lie in the interaction between bacterial pathogens and their hosts at the mucosal interface. We study key virulence determinants of bacterial pathogens and the host factors that influence outcome of disease, particularly within the immune system. Using both animal models and human systems, we aim to develop better drugs and vaccines for the treatment and prevention of infection.

PhD Research Projects

Project title: Molecular biology of the PICIs, a novel and widespread family of mobile genetic elements involved in bacterial virulence

Supervisor: Professor José R Penadés

  • Project outline:Bacteria are successful as commensal organisms or pathogens in part because they adapt rapidly to selective pressures imparted by the human host. Mobile genetic elements (MGEs) play a central role in this adaptation process and are a means to transfer genetic information (DNA) among and within bacterial species. Importantly, MGEs encode putative virulence factors and molecules that confer resistance to antibiotics. Inasmuch as bacterial infections are a significant problem worldwide and continue to emerge in epidemic waves, there has been significant effort to understand the agents that effect DNA movement. In recent years, we have extensively characterised a family of pathogenicity islands in Staphylococcus aureus, SaPIs, which contribute substantively to horizontal gene transfer, host adaptation and virulence. Here we hypothesise that similar elements occur widely in bacteria, defining a unique class of mobile genetic elements, the phage-inducible chromosomal islands (PICIs). Their uniqueness is defined by a constellation of features: unique and specific attachment sites, SOS-insensitive repressors, unique replication origin organization, and specific small terminase homologs that direct specific packaging of PICI DNA into phage-like infectious particles, resulting in very high transfer frequencies. We suggest that the PICIs represent two or more distinct lineages, have spread widely throughout the bacterial world, and have diverged much more slowly than their host organisms. Overall, these findings represent the discovery of a new class of MGE, which have a broad impact on lateral gene transfer and virulence in the bacterial world.

  • Summary aim:The overall goal of this project is to confirm the existence of this novel family of mobile genetic elements, the PICIs, deciphering its role in virulence. We aim to understand its molecular biology, to learn how to combat them, in order to minimize the appearance of novel virulent clones. In addition, we will gain insight into the characterisation of the SaPIs, the prototypical member of the PICI family. We will analyse how they control expression of bacterial genes and how they interfere with their helper phages.

  • Techniques to be used: Gene mutagenesis, Southern blot, western blot, northern blot, RNA and DNA sequencing, protein expression and purification, animal models.

  • References:1. Tormo-Más MÁ, Mir I, Shrestha A, Tallent SM, Campoy S, Lasa Í, Barbé J, Novick RP, Christie GE, Penadés JR. 2010. Moonlighting bacteriophage proteins derepress staphylococcal pathogenicity islands. Nature 465:779–782.
    2. Novick RP, Christie GE, Penadés JR. 2010. The phage-related chromosomal islands of Gram-positive bacteria. Nature Reviews Microbiology 8:541–551.
    3. Tormo-Más MÁ, Donderis J, García-Caballer M, Alt A, Mir-Sanchis I, Marina A, Penadés JR. 2013. Phage dUTPases control transfer of virulence genes by a proto-oncogenic G protein-like mechanism. Molecular Cell 49:947–958.

  • Contact: José R Penadés (JoseR.Penades@glasgow.ac.uk), Professor of Microbiology, Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation, College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences, University of Glasgow

Project Title: Host-Pathogne Interactions in Pneumococcal Infection

Supervisor: Professor Tom J Evans

 

  • Project outline:Infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae (Pneumococcus) remains a significant medical problem. Invasive disease includes pneumonia, sepsis and CNS infections. Mortality remains high, especially in the developing world. We study the intercations between this pathogen and the host, in order to understand better the innate and acquired immune mechanisms that underlie protection against infection. This project will study the role that the cytokine IL-17 plays in host defence against infection. This cytokine co-ordinates a neutrophil response to the infection that can be protective or harmful dependent on the bacterial strain. We will investigate the mechanisms of this effect and analyse the adaptations that the pneumococcus makes to allow it to resist innate and acquired immune clearance. Results from these studies will help in the identification of bacterial targets that could be exploited for novel therapeutic interventions and/or as the basis of a vaccine.

  • Summary aim:To determine the key innate and acquired immune responses that allow IL-17 to exert its biological effects in pneumococcal infection

  • Techniques to be used: Multi-colour Flow cytometry, qPCR, animal models of infection, ELISA, Intracellular cytokine detection

  • References:1. Future Microbiol. 2012 Jan;7(1):33-46. doi: 10.2217/fmb.11.146. What is different about serotype 1 pneumococci? Ritchie ND, Mitchell TJ, Evans TJ.

  • Contact: Professor Tom Evans (tom.evans@glasgow.ac.uk), Level 4, Glasgow Biomedical Research Centre, 120 University Place, Glasgow G12 8TA, UK. Phone: +44 (0)141 330 8418, Fax: +44 (0)141 330 4297

Overview

Growing resistance to antibiotics poses a grave threat to human health and developing novel strategies to combat bacterial infections is one of this century’s most important scientific challenges. Microbiology at the Institute of Infection, Immunology and Inflammation is focused on a molecular understanding bacterial pathogenesis and utilising this to develop novel therapeutics for the treatment of bacterial infections.

Study options

PhD programmes in virology last 3-4 years and are based on individual research projects covering the interest of the supervisor over a range of human pathogens that cause community and hospital acquired infections in addition to economically important animal pathogens. The bacterial species studied include S. aureusE. coliS. pneumoniae, P. aeruginosaC. difficileC. jejuniS. enteric and P. multocida.

Basic science, preclinical and clinical areas are available for study, with individual research projects tailored around the expertise of principal investigators within the Institute. A range of technical approaches are covered including molecular biology, genetics, genomics, proteomics, immunology, structural biology, biophysics and in vitro and in vivo models of disease. Specific areas of interest include: 

  • Molecular basis of virulence in Staphylococcus aureus and C. difficile
  • Bacterial manipulation of apoptosis
  • Bacteriophage and pathogenicity island genetics
  • Development of therapeutic anti-virulence strategies
  • Pneumonia and cystic fibrosis 
  • Interactions of bacteria with the host immune system
  • Genomic approaches to understanding pathogen evolution
  • Novel therapeutic approaches for the treatment of C. difficile infection
  • Mechanisms of Campylobacter jejuni pathogenesis
  • Development of therapeutic species specific antibiotics

Supervisors

All our postgraduate research students are allocated a supervisor who acts as the main source of academic support and research mentoring.

You may want to identify a potential supervisor and contact them to discuss your research proposal before you apply.

Entry requirements

Awarded or expected 1st class or high upper 2nd class BSc degree.

English Language requirements for applicants whose first language is not English.

Fees and funding

Fees

2016/17

  • £4,121 UK/EU
  • £18,900 outside EU

Prices are based on the annual fee for full-time study. Fees for part-time study are half the full-time fee.

Additional fees for all students:

  • Submission by a research student £440
  • Submission for a higher degree by published work £890
  • Submission of thesis after deadline lapsed £140
  • Submission by staff in receipt of staff scholarship £680
  • Research students registered as non-supervised Thesis Pending students (50% refund will be granted if the student completes thesis within the first six months of the period) £250
  • General Council fee £50
  • Depending on the nature of the research project, some students will be expected to pay a bench fee to cover additional costs. The exact amount will be provided in the offer letter.

2017/18

  • £4,195 UK/EU*
  • £19,500 outside EU

Prices are based on the annual fee for full-time study. Fees for part-time study are half the full-time fee.

* We expect that tuition fees for EU students entering in 2017 will continue to be set at the same level as that for UK students.  However, future funding arrangements for EU students will be determined as part of the UK’s discussions on its future relationship.  If you are thinking of applying for 2017 entry, we would encourage you to do so in the usual way. For further information, please see the Research Councils UK statement on international collaboration and Universities UK Brexit FAQs for universities and students.

Additional fees for all students:

  • Fee for re-submission by a research student: £460
  • Submission for a higher degree by published work: £1,050
  • Submission of thesis after deadline lapsed: £250
  • Submission by staff in receipt of staff scholarship: £730
  • Research students registered as non-supervised Thesis Pending students (50% refund will be granted if the student completes thesis within the first six months of the period): £300
  • Registration/exam only fee: £150
  • General Council fee: £50

Alumni discount

A 10% discount is available to University of Glasgow alumni. This includes graduates and those who have completed a Junior Year Abroad, Exchange programme or International Summer School at the University of Glasgow. The discount is applied at registration for students who are not in receipt of another discount or scholarship funded by the University. No additional application is required.

 

Funding

Support

The College of Medical, Veterinary and Life Sciences Graduate School provides a vibrant, supportive and stimulating environment for all our postgraduate students. We aim to provide excellent support for our postgraduates through dedicated postgraduate convenors, highly trained supervisors and pastoral support for each student.
 
Our over-arching aim is to provide a research training environment that includes:

  • provision of excellent facilities and cutting edge techniques
  • training in essential research and generic skills
  • excellence in supervision and mentoring
  • interactive discussion groups and seminars
  • an atmosphere that fosters critical cultural policy and research analysis
  • synergy between research groups and areas
  • extensive multidisciplinary and collaborative research
  • extensive external collaborations both within and beyond the UK 
  • a robust generic skills programme including opportunities in social and commercial training

Research environment

If you study with us, you will join a community of 26 postgraduate taught and 150 postgraduate research students. Our institute brings together world-leading basic, applied, clinical and translational researchers to study infection with a focus on the viral, parasitic and bacterial pathogens of both humans and animals, and immunology and inflammation with a focus on chronic inflammatory diseases.

Despite the continual development of new therapies, antibiotics and vaccines, chronic inflammatory and infectious diseases still pose persistent health threats. We aim to:

  • understand the basic science of the immune systems and how the immune system can inturn affect disease outcome understand the biology of parasites, viruse and bacteria and the interactions with their hosts, that in turn leads to high levels of infectious diseases worldwide
  • develop therapies (drugs and vaccines) targeted on these processes
  • explore new treatments and strategies in clinical and translational medicine.

Research centres

How to apply