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Since the development of the "germ theory of disease" in the mid-1800s, a spectrum of microorganisms have been identified as the causative agents of many infectious diseases. Pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and protozoan and metazoan parasites have threatened human and animal health throughout recorded history and remain major causes of illness worldwide. These pathogens undergo rapid genetic change and evolution, and are subject to intense selection pressure arising from the use of chemotherapeutic drugs and vaccines. As novel variants of these agents arise, the danger of less controllable disease is increasing, not diminishing. In particular, emerging multi-drug resistance threatens to overwhelm our capacity to control infections. Thus, although substantial progress has been made in combating infectious disease, there are reasons to believe the threat of infection may intensify in future. Consequently, there is a vital need to further increase our understanding of both the basic biology of pathogenic organisms and the concomitant host immune responses to them. In turn, this will underpin the development of new drugs, vaccines and vaccine delivery systems.

The Course

The Host-Pathogen Interaction module focuses on the mechanisms that underlie diseases caused by important bacteria, viruses and protozoa. Agents of communicable disease that lie at the forefront of current research efforts or represent major neglected diseases of mankind are discussed, although the course is not constructed around a taxonomic approach. Emphasis is placed on the combined use of molecular, cellular and structural biology to unravel detailed structure-function relationships underlying pathogen-host interactions. Sufficient background is covered to enable students to appreciate how host responses to pathogen infections can result in useful immunity and sometimes in harmful immunopathology.

Research Projects

Projects may be available in research groups with a diversity of interests. Research in virology spans mechanisms of transcriptional and translational control, viral evolution, and structural biology of viral proteins. Research in microbiology is concentrated on elucidating molecular mechanisms that underlie the virulence of pathogenic bacteria. This work involves the study of multidrug efflux pumps and outer membrane assembly, the cellular microbiology of bacterial cell entry and intracellular replication, and bacterial cell motility and multicellular behaviour. These studies encompass molecular biology, cellular biology, biochemistry and structural biology. Parasitology research concerns protozoan and helminth infections and their subsequent host-immune responses.  For example, several malaria research groups focus on the investigation of the molecular basis for drug resistance, virulence and infectivity in Plasmodium parasites.

Research projects are available which cover a wide range of topics, and students are able to match a topic to their own particular interests. Other scientists in external laboratories whose work is closely related, such as members of staff at the UK Health Security Agency at Addenbrookes Hospital, and at the Veterinary School also contribute projects.

Examples of Current/Previous Projects

  • Early detection of zoonotic pathogens using avian faeces
  • Remodelling of the cytoskeleton by invasive Salmonella
  • DNA replication in the human malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum
  • Investigation of Healthcare Associated Infections at Addenbrookes Hospital
  • Unravelling secret structures of parasitic nematodes through advanced microscopy
  • Investigation of antimicrobial use and antimicrobial stewardship at Addenbrookes Hospital
  • Characterisation of novel ubiquitin pathway enzymes in Plasmodium falciparum
  • Characterisation of Chlamydia inclusion filaments and their role during bacterial replication and persistence
  • Transposable elements as drivers of evolution in parasitic genomes
  • How does Salmonella hijack vesicular trafficking pathways in the infected cell?