Illuminating the mechanistic basis of virus-like gene transfer between bacteria

John Innes Centre
Molecular Microbiology

Bacteria commonly exchange genetic information (DNA) as they evolve and adapt to changes in their local environment. This includes the transfer of genes conferring resistance to antibiotics used to treat bacterial infections in humans. Bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, presenting a major threat to global health. Resistance spreads by different transfer mechanisms including transformation, conjugation, transduction, and gene transfer agents (GTAs). Of these four routes, GTAs are the least understood. GTAs are virus-like entities found within bacterial genomes that have a unique but poorly characterised lifecycle. To fully appreciate the role of GTAs in the spread of antimicrobial resistance, it is critical that we improve our knowledge of how GTAs work. Therefore, the overall aim of my research is to build a comprehensive understanding of fundamental GTA biology which I will achieve using a wide range of cutting-edge, complementary techniques including molecular genetics, microscopy, biochemical and structural approaches. Ultimately, enhancing our understanding of GTAs could inform the custom-engineering of GTA particles into genetic tools and therapeutics in industry and medicine, respectively.