Wow! I hope I get to bring interesting experiments to a classroom near you :)
Ecole Active Bilingue Jeannine Manuel, Paris, France (1994-2006)
Biology (Microbiology) at Imperial College London (2006-2009)
1st year PhD student
Imperial College London
Favourite thing to do in my job: Discovering new things!
I am trying to work out exactly how and why certain bacteria make poisonous cyanide (!) in the lungs of Cystic Fibrosis patients in the hope that one day we can stop them.
The disease I work on:
I work on Cystic fibrosis (CF) , the most common inherited disease in the UK. In the UK as a whole, around 1 in 25 people are carriers of the CF mutation and 1 in 2500 babies are born with the disorder. CF is actually most common in Ireland, where 1 in 19 people are carriers of the mutation (carriers don’t suffer from CF but if two carriers have children together, there is a 1 in 4 chance that the child will have the disease).
You might find the idea of mucus quite disgusting but in healthy people it plays the important role of ejecting lots of harmful germs from our lungs and nose. It acts a bit like a conveyor belt or an escalator that stops bacteria from settling down and making us ill.
The problem with CF patients is that they make thick, sticky mucus that can’t eject the bacteria. Essentially, the ‘escalator’ is stuck. This means that they get lots of bacterial infections, some of which can last over 20 years (!), and these are the major cause of death (average life expectancy of CF patients is 35).
I work on the most common and vicious germ offender, a bacterium called Pseudomonas aeruginosa (pronounced Soo-duh-moe-nass ah-eh-roo-gin-oh-sah). Pseudomonas has recently been shown to produce cyanide in the lung of CF patients and I am trying to understand why this is the case, whether the cyanide levels are high enough to be toxic and, if so, whether we can find ways to stop Pseudomonas from making it.
Results so far:
So far, evidence from my research suggests that the cyanide is having a significant negative effect on the nose cells of patients, but it’s early days yet and I need to do more experiments in order to confirm my findings!
My Typical Day
I spend half my time in a microbiology lab at the university and half my time at a nearby hospital where I get access to patient samples (icky mucus from the inside of people’s noses mostly!).
What I'd do with the prize money
I think there should be more interactive experiments at school. What I’d like to do with the money if you vote for me is to create a fun and interactive classroom experiment centered around my favourite science topic: Quorum Sensing (how bacteria talk to each other). Decoding bacterial communication systems actually has really cool applications. For example, we can manipulate non-harmful bacteria into making useful things for us like fuels or vaccines (turn them into miniature living factories). In the case of disease-causing bacteria, we can learn how to interrupt their communication systems so that they’re less able to coordinate attacks on our immune defenses. This could help us treat many important bacterial diseases.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
curious, spontaneous and passionate
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Made glowy bacteria.
Were you ever in trouble at school?
Sometimes, for chatting during class.
Who is your favourite singer or band?
The Red Hot Chili Peppers (I love their crazy lyrics).
What is the most fun thing you've done?
A last minute weekend trip to Barcelona with my friends earlier this year :)
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
(1) Win enough money to (2) create a charity and (3) go travelling (a travelling soup kitchen would be ideal since I love cooking and world hunger is something I really care about!)
Tell us a joke.