Tackling multidrug-resistant bacteria
Multidrug-resistant bacteria pose a major challenge to the management of infections. Dr Rob Kingsley and his lab studies the variation in food-borne bacterial pathogens to identify targets for novel intervention strategies with a principal interest in Salmonella enterica.
Dr Rob Kingsley is a research leader at the Institute of Food Research. Rob was awarded a Ph.D for research on iron uptake and metabolism in bacterial pathogens at the University of Leicester in 1997. He then joined Texas A&M University, USA for a postdoctoral fellowship and subsequently as Assistant Professor before joining The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.
What scientific questions are you currently addressing? And how are you tackling them?
My lab is focussed on understanding how the diversity in foodborne bacterial pathogens leads to distinct variations representing different risks to food safety. We study variation of field isolates of foodborne pathogens at the whole genome, proteome and transcriptome level. This reveals their genetic relatedness and leads to the generation of hypotheses that we test in the lab using molecular and cellular techniques that model infection or environmental stress.
How did you become interested in this field of work?
Our work is at the intersection of evolution and genetics which has always been attractive to me. I find that the famous quote ‘nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution’ really rings true. Our approach makes biological sense of naturally occurring variation in foodborne pathogens moulded by natural selection. It can provide answers that are of fundamental interest but will also lead to applications relevant to pathogen surveillance and diagnostics, and the development of intervention strategies.
Why is your research important? Where will it have the greatest impact?
The pathogen variation we are studying is timely because of the recent shift in pathogen surveillance toward molecular and whole genome sequence methodology. The ability to interpret that variation in terms of risk to food safety will add a new level of sophistication to epidemiology. Observing ‘nature’s experiment‘ is also a novel route into identifying the molecular basis of disease and transmission between hosts that will provide fresh leads for targets for intervention strategies including vaccines and antimicrobials.
How long have you been at the Institute? What drew you to the Institute of Food Research?
Since January 2014. I was attracted to the Institute by the critical mass of Microbiology, Environmental Biology and Genomics that is present on the Norwich Research Park. The park is on an exciting path that will further bring key researchers in these areas together, along with research teams from the University of East Anglia and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in the new Quadram Institute. This is a unique environment for my research interests.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I enjoy being able to address fundamental scientific questions that have important applications with huge societal impact. Food and health are central to everyone’s lives and we face a constant challenge to maintain a safe and secure food supply in a changing world.
Are there any advantages of working at a research institute compared with other research environments?
Research Institutes provide the opportunity to focus on research while retaining the opportunity to interact with talented young undergraduate and postgraduate students. IFR has an excellent relationship with the adjacent University of East Anglia where research staff at IFR can participate in undergraduate teaching. However, our core activity is in basic and applied research, interaction with industry and the mentoring of PhD students.
What discovery would most revolutionise your field?
Discovery of the true Achilles heel of bacteria that would open up the possibility to design an antibiotic to which resistance could not evolve.
Do you have any advice to offer future scientists?
Follow your interests since your passion for the subject is critical to success, but stay pragmatic enough to understand that where your interests meet societal need is where the true impact (and funding) lies.