Kathryn Billane

The evolution of multidrug resistant bacterial pathogens

About me

I studied for an undergraduate degree in Biology (BSc) at the University of Hull. During this time I discovered a love for evolutionary biology and genetics, making this project a perfect fit for me. I undertook a variety of summer experiences during my degree, one of which turned into my 3rd year research project entitled: The genetic basis for adaptation in deep water Lake Malawi cichlids. During this project I tried to trace an evolutionary change by looking at the RNA of a small range of cichlid species. I enjoyed this project and knew I wanted to continue studying a combination of evolution and genetics to solve a problem, something my current PhD project is well suited to.

My project

The evolution of antibiotic resistance poses a serious global threat to human and animal health. The emergence of multidrug resistant pathogens is often driven by the spread of plasmids that encode genes giving resistance to multiple antibiotics. Bacteria resist beta-lactam antibiotics by the production of beta-lactamase enzymes, coded for by blaCTX-M genes which sit on plasmids. These genes are very prominent in clinically important strains of bacteria as the plasmid is transferred by horizontal gene transfer. However, gaining a plasmid is not always beneficial for the bacterium because plasmids disrupt a wide range of cellular processes to cause large fitness costs. An exciting possibility is that if we understood how these fitness costs are caused we could exploit this weakness to select against resistance plasmids, reducing the burden of antibiotic resistance.

This project seeks to understand the general rules governing how diverse resistance plasmids impact cellular processes to create fitness costs in E.coli, an important bacterial pathogen of humans and animals. I will use multiple omics techniques (genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics) and systems biology approaches in combination with experimental evolution and molecular biology.


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