“Bacteriophages: micromanipulators of the bacterial world and a treasuretrove of novel antibacterials”

Posted by dmrbp1 at Dec 19, 2016 11:32 AM |
Part of the Professorial Inaugural Lecture series 2016-17

Professor Martha Clokie from the Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation gave her Professorial Inaugural Lecture on Tuesday 6 December in the Centre for Medicine Lecture Theatre 1.

Her lecture discussed the fact Bacteriophages, or phages, are viruses that infect bacteria. They are the most abundant and diverse biological entities on earth, and all bacteria have specific viruses that target and infect them, either causing death, or profound changes in their biology. Professor Clokie’s journey with bacteriophages started 16 years ago when she attempted to understand how the most abundant primary producers in the ocean (cyanobacteria) were influenced by these organisms. Sequencing the genomes of these phages revealed that their physiology is closely linked to that of the cyanobacteria, and in addition to the key genes needed to make viruses, they have acquired genes involved in photosynthesis and many other bacterial processes. Clearly the viruses were key to understanding many aspects of cyanobacterial biology. Although all bacteria have these viruses, little attention has been paid to their ecological roles in many bacteria that cause human disease, and since establishing her research group at Leicester, Professor Clokie has spent the last decade applying an environmental and ecological framework attempting to rectify this, particularly in Clostridium difficile and in various respiratory pathogens. An ecological understanding can inform the way in which phages, or products from phages can be effectively exploited to remove or reduce bacteria from situations where they are not wanted, for example where they cause human disease. This is particularly pertinent in the era of bacterial resistance to antibiotics, and phages have the potential to be developed to treat a range of human diseases. For Clostridium difficile, her work has developed from the idea that they may be useful, to identifying and characterizing sets of viruses and establishing promising data on their efficacy at treating infection in a range of complex models. Professor Clokie’s talk highlighted her early work on environmental bacteria and showed how it informed subsequent work on the selection and development of phages to treat human diseases.


Professor Clokie obtained a BSc in Biology from Dundee University in 1996 an MSc in Biodiversity from Edinburgh University in 1997, and a PhD from Leicester in Molecular Ecology in 2001. She then did 6 years of Post-Doctoral research at the University of Warwick and in Scripps, La Jolla, San Diego. In 2007 Professor Clokie was appointed as a lecturer at Leicester, in 2011 a Reader and this year she was promoted to Professor in Microbiology. Her research focuses on phages that infect bacteria of medical and ecological relevance and she has published 41 papers in this area. She is interested in the ecology and evolution of viruses, and how and where they evolve, and in determining the mechanistic basis for the way in which they impact bacterial hosts. So to do this the work transcends from genome sequencing, through transcriptomics and proteomics. Professor Clokie would also like to develop relevant model systems in which to study host-phage interactions. She is particularly interested in phage therapy and how a knowledge of phage behaviour in the environment and in model systms can inform phage therapy development. Her major focus has been on Clostridium difficile where she has isolated a large phage collection. In vitro and in vivo data has shown that the viruses have therapeutic potential. Professor Clokie has filed a patent on these phages and is working with AmpliPhi to develop a product. She is also working on other bacteriophages that infect a range of other serious, yet neglected pathogens includint Borrelia, Brachyspira, Burkholderia pseudomallei and Streptococcus pneumonia.

 The lecture can be viewed here

 MC lecture 1

MC lecture 2

MC lecture 3

MC lecture 4

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MC lecture 5

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