Research Fellows Directory
Dr lucy weinert
University of Cambridge
In an increasingly post-antibiotic era, creative approaches to combating infectious disease are becoming paramount. My research goal is to understand why and how bacteria become pathogens. Identifying common features of pathogen emergence - whether they be repeated genomic changes or shared epidemiological contexts - would give us predictive power. This might allow us to forecast pathogen emergence, to develop preventative strategies, or improve treatments.
One promising phenomenon to study in this context is the link between reductive genome evolution and pathogenicity. Bacterial pathogens very often have smaller genomes and fewer genes than their nearest non-pathogenic relatives. This pattern applies in phyla as diverse as the Firmicutes, Tenericutes and Proteobacteria. However, despite much speculation, it remains unclear why this pattern holds. I aim to address this question using Streptococcus suis, a bacterium that is common in non-pathogenic forms, but which also causes serious diseases in pigs and humans. S. suis has made several recent and independent transitions to pathogenicity, each associated with genome reduction, and the gene loss appears non-random, suggesting that the process might be predictable. My research involves sampling whole genomes of global S. suis populations, developing new statistical models and collating functional data in order to conduct the first large-scale tests of the various hypotheses linking genome reduction and pathogenicity. Together, the proposed research will further our understanding of an important emerging pathogen, and of pathogenicity much more broadly.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)