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My molecular microbiology research focuses on bacterial interactions with plants and animals. Pseudomonas are found in most niches on earth (including clouds!), but we look mainly at the interaction of these bacteria with plants; we have recently expanded to animals such as worms and insects like aphids. Many Pseudomonas bacteria, such as Pseudomonas syringae, have specialised over time to attack plants to gain nutrients – the outcome being plant disease in susceptible hosts. In this context, a lot of our study is on the plant pathogen Pseudomonas syringae, this includes the tree pathogen P. s. pv. aesculi , which is killing Horse Chestnut trees. Conversely, other Pseudomonas bacteria, such as Pseudomonas fluorescens, have maintained a generalist lifestyle, surviving on whatever nutrients are available in a given environment or seeking out nutrient-rich sources, such as root exudates. Often, these bacteria have the ability to suppress plant disease although the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon are poorly understood.
A significant amount of work is being invested, much funded by the HDC, to identify and characterise new aphid-killing bacteria. On the same theme of biocontrol we are also interested in phage therapy as a means to control bacterial diseases in plants.
More recently, we have started to research the interaction of human pathogenic Escherichia coli O157 with plants, to identfiy the genetic basis for bacterial survival and colonisation of plants.
For more details, see the Research section of this site.