Saturday, 18 September 2010

Evolutionary Genetics for Translational Research

This month saw the 2010 Infectious Disease Genomics & Global Health meeting at Hinxton, which attracted a good number of people involved in the Modernising Medical Microbiology consortium, of which I am a participant. Rory Bowden and Rosalind Harding presented our group's progress on piecing together intra-host evolution of Staphylococcus aureus and reconstructing transmission chains in Clostridium difficile. My role in the projects has so far been one of assisting in ongoing evolutionary analyses and collaborating in the design of bioinformatics pipelines to make sense of the raw Illumina short-read sequencing data. At the same time I have been devising research plans for my own group, and spending time in the lab preparing sequencing experiments with Bernadette Young. In the poster I presented at Hinxton (available here), and at an internal talk I gave earlier in the year (slides here) I set out what I see as the strengths of Evolutionary Genetics for addressing translational medical problems including
  • Tracking the transmission of hospital-acquired pathogens
  • Understanding transmission dynamics at the population level
  • Identifying the mechanistic and adaptive basis of disease
  • Explaining how pathogens emerge, persist and spread globally
Of the many stimulating talks at the Hinxton conference, those by Dominic Kwiatkowski on the population genomics of Plasmodium falciparum, Christophe Fraser on "hyper-recombination" in Streptococcus pneumoniae and Paul Keim on the challenges for understanding the population genetics of non-clonal bacterial pathogens particularly interested me. Prof Keim gave an equally captivating talk the following day at the Health Protection 2010 meeting in Warwick on his microbial forensics work tracing the origin of Bacillus anthracis spores used in bioterrorism attacks. What I especially admired about his presentations was the dogged pursuit of new methods and ways of thinking in order to better address the biological questions at hand.

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