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Lifestyle switching in Pathogenic Bacteria

Principal Supervisor: Dr David Grainger - School of Biosciences

Co-supervisor: Ian Henderson

PhD project title: Lifestyle switching in Pathogenic Bacteria

University of Registration: Birmingham

Project outline:

The switch between commensal and virulent bacterial lifestyles can be exploited to disrupt pathogen ecology or develop vaccines. Genomics and synthetic biology offer exciting new opportunities in this area. My laboratory is currently funded to characterise and modify regulation of lifestyle switching in Vibrio cholerae; the causative agent of Cholera. This Gram negative bacterium is responsible for $3.1 billion dollar financial losses, and several million incidence of enteric disease, every year. Many instances of Cholera are attributable to an ongoing global pandemic, the 7th to sweep our planet in recorded history. However, disease is also associated with local epidemics; the upsurge of Cholera cases in Haiti, following the 2010 earthquake, being of note. Worryingly, warming seas in northern Europe, have caused a sharp increase Vibrio cholerae occurrence in environmental water samples.

In aquatic environments, V. cholerae persists by forming biofilms on the chitinous surfaces of plankton and shellfish. These biofilms are rapidly disassembled on ingestion by a human or aquatic host. Following host colonisation, disease may be caused by the extrusion of toxins (1). Our work involves the application of genomics, molecular biology, and colonisation models to study the control of these lifestyle changes at the level of gene regulation. You can read about our application of similar tools to other bacteria in reference 2 below.


  1. Nelson, EJ, Harris, JB, Morris, JG, Calderwood, SB, Camilli, A. (2009) Cholera transmission: the host, pathogen and bacteriophage dynamic. Nature Reviews Microbiology 7, 693-702.
  2. Haycocks JR, Sharma P, Stringer AM, Wade JT, Grainger DC (2015) The molecular basis for control of ETEC enterotoxin expression in response to environment and host. PLoS Pathog. 11:e1004605.

BBSRC Strategic Research Priority: Food Security

Techniques that will be undertaken during the project:

  • Protein purification
  • Chromatin Immunoprecipitation
  • Illuminia Sequencing and associated bioinformatics
  • PCR, Radioisotopes
  • Microscopy
  • In vitro DNA binding assays
  • Reporter assays
  • Microbial cell culture
  • Mutagenesis

Contact: Dr David Grainger, University of Birmingham