My research interests have been diverse and based largely around understanding the distribution and ecology of bacterial pathogens in the natural environment (particularly the animal and human pathogen Mycobacterium paratuberculosis) and how bacteria acquire and transfer traits such as antibiotic resistance and virulence and stress response genes through gene transfer.
More recently, through incorporation of the latest molecular techniques such as next generation sequencing and qPCR, and in collaboration with colleagues from within CEH and a range of universities, my research has diversified to include the molecular ecology of wild (blue tits) and captive birds (zebra finches) through assessment of gut microflora; the life traits of honey bees (Apis mellifera) via linkage of hive microflora and pollen to landscape composition; the genetics behind the cortisol stress response in fish (three spined sticklebacks) and the dynamics of covert Baculovirus infections in the African army worm Spodoptera exempta.
I am presently a Higher Scientific Officer within CEH having first joined CEH's predecessor IFE Windermere my NERC-Liverpool University PhD on mobile genetic elements in bacteria from within the post-glacial sediments of Windermere. My IFE/CEH supervisor at the time Roger Pickup became a long term collaborator with whom the majority of my research to date has been carried out.
After completion of my PhD and in collaboration with colleagues in Ireland and Belgium and through EU grant funding my research addressed antibiotic resistance (mainly tetracycline) between environmental compartments and were the first to show that a specific group of resistance plasmids have global ubiquity and are not confined to any human-defined environmental compartments. This also led to the first DNA sequence and description of a globally significant IncU plasmid, pFBAOT6.
This work was followed by what became a long standing interest in the environmental distribution, epidemiology and microbial ecology of the animal and human pathogen Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP). We were the first to show that MAP can survive for long periods in river water, can replicate within amoebal hosts and to predict its occurrence based upon hydrological data. We also provided the first model of environmental sources and sinks of MAP with respect to human exposure.
Most recently we have confirmed that river aerosols and domestic showers are also route for exposure to MAP and on an unrelated topic have discovered a novel mobile genetic element that we termed an 'integron-like element' (ILE) that potentially has significant influence on the adaptation and evolution of bacterial pathogens.
1993 BSc (Hons) Class 1 in Applied Microbiology. Liverpool John Moores University.
1997 PhD University of Liverpool. Insertion Sequence 1 (IS1) in freshwater and associated sediments.
2000-present. Higher Scientific Officer, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology.
Member of the International Association of Paratuberculosis (IAP) since 2001.