Bacteria are highly successful in evolutionary terms, occupying most possible ecological niches on the planet. A small proportion of the bacteria have evolved to occupy niches within humans and other animals, and a smaller proportion of these cause harm to the host animal in so doing. The diseases caused by these species of bacteria range from the relatively mild up to the rapidly fatal. Historically important bacterial infections include the Black Death, or plague, tuberculosis, typhoid fever and cholera. All of these diseases of humans still occur, with devastating consequences, especially in the Developing World. Bacterial diseases are also major problems for livestock health, and the spread of bacteria from animals to humans remains a major public health problem worldwide.
Vaccines and antimicrobial drugs have been developed and used for decades. Some bacterial diseases are controlled very successfully by their use, but others are not, and finding effective and safe vaccines to prevent them has been particularly difficult. The use and abuse of antimicrobials in human and veterinary medicine has inevitably driven the evolution of resistance to these drugs, and there are now bacterial pathogens that are resistant to all known antimicrobial drugs, raising the spectre of a return to the pre-antibiotic era.
Research at the University of Cambridge into bacterial diseases is wide-ranging. The spectrum of activity runs from studying the pathogens themselves through to trying to understand how the pathogens interact with their hosts, and how the host animals fight off infection. Research ranges from the molecular biology of pathogenesis, through host cell interactions, to whole animal research aimed at understanding the mathematical models underlying the infection dynamics. Much of this work is directed at development of new and improved intervention strategies, and specifically at identifying targets for novel vaccines and antimicrobial drugs.
This research is concentrated principally in the Departments of Pathology, Veterinary Medicine, Biochemistry, Genetics and Pharmacology, with strong links to other Departments in the University, and Institutes in the Cambridge area and beyond, both nationally and internationally.
People specializing in this area
Bacterial genomics and evolution
Role of nucleoid associated proteins in regulating gene expression; microfluidics for controlling growth, and enabling single cell observations in sustained exponential growth conditions.
Salmonella infection dynamics of macrophages (collaboration with Dr Clare Bryant).
Pathogenic Escherichia coli
MRSA in Dairy Cows