Dynamics of microbe-microbe and microbe-host interactions in mixed-species biofilm infection

Lead Research Organisation: University of Warwick
Department Name: School of Life Sciences


Bacteria often produce a sticky coat in order to glue themselves together into multicellular structures called biofilm. Biofilms are found in industrial settings (like liquid handling systems in factories) and in many chronic infections (like lung infections in people with cystic fibrosis, or diabetic foot ulcers). The biofilm coating allows bacteria to stick to surfaces and can prevent antibiotics and immune cells from reaching the bacteria to kills them. Also, biofilms are often a response to very specific environmental conditions that also change bacterial physiology. Bacteria in biofilms may express different genes and have quite different metabolism from bacteria growing as single, freely-moving cells in standard lab broth. These physiological changes can also increase the bacteria's resistance to antibiotics, and also allow different strains and species of bacteria to coexist and cooperate to protect one another from antibiotics. If we want to understand how bacteria behave in biofilms and why this makes them so hard to get rid of, we need laboratory models of the specific contexts in which bacteria from biofilms. These will allow us to study diverse biofilm communities of bacteria in an environment that is chemically and structurally similar to a real-world setting in which biofilms cause problems. In this PhD, I will use a model of bacterial biofilms in the lungs of people with cystic fibrosis to improve our understanding of the fundamental microbiology of bacterial biofilm formation, ecology and antibiotic resistance. I use pigs' lungs, supplied by a local butcher as a by-product of the meat industry, and carefully-constructed artificial CF lung mucus to mimic the lung environment. I will study how key species of bacteria interact and evolve in these biofilms, and assess how models like mine could be used to find better ways of dismantling biofilm.

Studentship Projects

Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Student Name
BB/M01116X/1 01/10/2015 30/09/2023
1897887 Studentship BB/M01116X/1 02/10/2017 30/09/2021 Niamh Ellen Harrington
Description Our research so far has shown that a model using pig lung tissue that is a waste product from the meat industry is able to mimic key aspects of bacterial lung infections seen in humans. We have focused on the lung infections that affect people with the genetic condition Cystic Fibrosis (CF), and have shown that one of the major pathogens in the UK infects the pig lung model in the same way that it infects the CF lung. The model is allowing us to further understand the dynamics of these infections. It may facilitate research into these infections in a more realistic setting to bridge the gap between the laboratory and the clinic, and has potential to be used for the discovery of novel infection prevention methods and treatments.
Exploitation Route Development and hopefully publication of this model means that it can now be used by other research groups to develop it to study infections in other lung contexts. It may also be possible to develop it as a drug testing/development platform commercially.
Sectors Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description Microbiology Society Conference Grants - Annual Conference 2019
Amount £238 (GBP)
Funding ID GA001128 
Organisation Microbiology Society 
Sector Learned Society
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2019 
End 04/2019
Description Getting Stuck into Antibiotics (British Science Festival) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Myself and a colleague ran a stall at the 2019 British Science Festival focused on the antimicrobial resistance crisis and demonstrating to the general public how this can occur in biofilm infections through a demonstration ('Getting Stuck into Antibiotics') as well as answering questions. Feedback on the day was that people were learning new things from us and that we were conveying our information in an easy to understand way. The festival and outreach teams reported back that we ran a successful activity that engaged the attendees.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019
Description Primary School Visit (Solihull) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Myself and a colleague attended a primary school for a science day to run workshops about bacteria and infections. We held an assembly for the whole school (~120 pupils and teachers) to demonstrate the journey microbes take and then ran a workshop throughout the day which each class attended. This included a number of activities focused on antimicrobial resistance and the global spread of infectious diseases. This encouraged discussion and questions from the children and the school feedback was that all the pupils were very engaged and have requested more science days in the future.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2019