Rose Hill School, Tunbridge Wells, Kent 1996-2001; The Skinners’ School, Tunbridge Wells, Kent 2001-2008; University of Leicester 2010-2014; University of East Anglia (IFR) 2015 – present
BSc(Hons) Biological Sciences (Microbiology); A-level Biology, Chemistry, Philosophy & Ethics
University of Leicester, Microbial genetics internship (2014); 2 Sisters Food Group, Microbiology Technician (2015)
I am a PhD student of University of East Anglia, and carry out my research at the Institute of Food Research in the Salmonella group
Norwich Bioscience Institutes Doctoral Training Partnership
Favourite thing to do in my job: My favourite thing to do in science is talk with other people and ‘brainstorm’ – come up with new exciting ideas and swap stories with them about their research,.
I am a nature loving, talkative, microorganism enthusiast who enjoys joking around and loves to play music.
I live in the quiet and friendly town of Norwich with my dog Lucy. She’s a soppy and friendly brown Labrador who loves to lick peoples faces and enjoys nothing more than a belly rub and chasing her frisbee. During the week after work I’ll hang out with Lucy and two cats, Heidi and Isabelle, or play board games with friends. I go to the gym as often as I can, but my favourite sport is floor ball, which is an indoor version of hockey played in countries like Sweden and Denmark.
Besides science my favourite activities are playing my piano and guitar, which is even better on Tuesday evenings when our band gets together for rehearsals. We do a lot of jamming, but write our own songs and have a second album in production. We all agree it is really fun.
If there’s any time left over in the week I have a guilty pleasure to play the Playstation, especially to build towns on Fallout 4 and play Fifa online with friends. During the weekend Ill travel to Peterborough to spend time with my girlfriend Roweena. She usually insists on buying Domino’s pizza, (although she prefers to eat garlic bread than the expensive pizza). Sometimes we will both go and join her family in Leicester, who are originally from India, and they will teach me funny words in Gujurati, the language of their home region, and give me super spicy food to eat.
Looking at viruses which kill bacteria
I study the way in which bacteria can become resistant to viruses which kill them, so that we can use them instead of antibiotics.
Bacteria are pretty small, about 1 micron, which is 1/1000 of a millimetre, and just like humans most bacteria have viruses which infect them. These viruses are called bacteriophage, which literally just means “bacteria eating”. These viruses are about 500 times smaller than the bacteria, which makes working with them quite difficult. Bacteria and their specific bacteriophage have been evolving together for possibly a billion years, and over this time bacteria have developed ways to cope with the viruses, just like you and I won’t fall dead every time we have a viral infection, like the cold. This is because we have both innate and adaptive immunity, as do bacteria. What’s more interesting, is that the bacteriophage have also developed ways to counter this bacterial immunity, which brings about an evolutionary arms race: a race to evolve and overpower one another.
My work starts by looking at the DNA for clues. I work on bacteria called Salmonella. I look at its bacteriophages, and types of bacteriophage resistance. Salmonella poisoning we get in the UK and USA usually comes from food we eat causing bad tummy aches and diarrhoea. But in Africa and Asia there are types which are deadly, the most deadly is typhoidal Salmonella which causes a horrible disease called typhoid fever and affects 11 million people a year, killing about 10% of those. Luckily in the UK and USA we have people who monitor the Salmonella around the country (in fact I used to help do this), which prevents outbreaks and stops people becoming sick. Many people agree that the best way to stop people getting sick is to stop the Salmonella at the ‘beginning’, in this case the beginning would be in farms. This is where the bacteriophage come in handy, and farmers have already started using them to kill the Salmonella by giving them to chickens and pigs. Using bacteriophage can be better than using antibiotics on these animals (which is what many farmers do at the moment in the USA) because using all these antibiotics is likely to have caused lots of the antibiotic resistance we see today. So knowing why Salmonella would become resistance to bacteriophage will be very useful.
It doesn’t stop there. Bacteriophage are also a hopeful treatment for bacterial infections, and many people around the world are looking at using them together with antibiotics. Using them together could make the treatment faster and lowers the chance of leaving behind resistant bacteria, which is what happens with antibiotics causing antibiotic resistance.
My Typical Day
No such thing as a typical day
The best thing about the work I do is that I get the best of both worlds of modern science, as well as the bits in between:
One day I could come in at 10am and set up my computer – the next in at 9am to take out my bacteria from the incubator. The greatest thing about living in the 21st century (I think that’s the one we live in) is that we have super duper technology. One of the best is DNA sequencing. This sequences the blueprint of an organism, giving you just a set of letters in a sequence, which just by itself can give you months and months of work. Looking directly at the DNA means I have to find better and easier ways to find things by using and writing computer scripts and programmes. This is usually something I start the week off with, and as long as their is a lot of coffee (or scientist fuel, as it also should be called) these can be really fun and challenging days, with a nice lunch and talk with my research group at about 1 o’clock. Depending on how things are going I could leave at 6, 7, or sometimes stay until 9pm (the sign of both a really good day and a really bad day).
I also get the chance to do some lab work. These days need more structure, you have to time everything carefully and plan ahead as much as you can – unfortunately the bacteria and the viruses won’t wait for you! I could be doing anything from DNA extraction, to making a mutant version of Salmonella, or preparing a way to assess the bacteria, such as looking at the way they grow to view any differences.
In between all these things I also help plan parties for the students, help out students by raising issues to management, mentor undergraduate students, and visit people I’m working with, all of which need to be factored into my day.
What I'd do with the prize money
I would use it to help fund the work of our STEM ambassadors
In our institute we have people who do a lot of work reaching out to school children and trying to make science fun and interesting. A proportion of these are STEM ambassadors: people who work asScience Technology Engineering and Mathematics ‘ambassadors’ to the public. This includes such activities as science festivals in the local cathedral, amongst other events, where in the past we’ve have a scientist who changed the sequence of a protein into music, a fake volcano, a board game dedicated to learning microbes, people who write songs about amoebas, and much more. These things cost money, and I would look to use a proportion to come up with my own “stall” at the festival next year – I was thinking of making giant models of bacteria and bacteriophage to explain how bacteria have an immune system which can be related to our own immune system. I would make the money available to any of the people who take part in these events, as it could be useful for any of them and I wouldn’t need all of it.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Fun, enthusiastic and kind
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Help teach university students
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My chemistry teacher Mrs. Mason, my tutors at university, and my curious nature.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
More than my mother knew
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
What is the most fun thing you've done?
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
That I find something really cool from my research, meet lots of amazing people, and go into outer-space.
Tell us a joke.
Steak puns are a rare medium well done.