Research in Focus: Molecular Microbe-Host Interactions
As part of #BiofilmWeek, we’re highlighting interesting and exciting biofilm research being undertaken across our NBIC partner research institutions by early career researchers, PhD students and our Interdisciplinary Research Fellows.
We interviewed Dr Shi-qi An, NBIC Interdisciplinary Senior Research Fellow from the University of Southampton. Shi-qi explains her research surrounding molecular microbe-host interactions
Tell us about your area of biofilm research
I am interested in translational research where I focus on understanding the functions of microbes and applying knowledge from their basic biology to address critical medical unmet needs. I am currently studying microbial signalling systems that use small molecules. These small molecules can be modified to develop new antimicrobials and anti-virulence drugs that are desperately needed. My work is multi-disciplinary and involves collaborators from a collection of disciplines including biochemistry, immunology and chemistry, with clinical physicians and industry partners, which include Unilever, Destiny Pharma, Symrise, LGC and AkzoNobel for various projects.
Top panel middle: Oral biofilm developed in a CDC biofilm reactor
Top panel right: Static biofilm formed on µ-chamber slide
Bottom panel: Model of marine biofilm using elastomeric material
What current unmet needs does your research address?
One unmet need is antimicrobial resistant infections. The global threat of antimicrobial resistant bacteria and other superbugs is worsening, as many patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19 receive antibiotics to keep secondary infections in check. New antimicrobials and anti-virulence drugs are desperately needed to provide new therapeutic options. In order to test the new antimicrobials that we have developed in the lab, we require reference models and standards of infection. Our newly awarded NBIC Proof of Concept project aims to develop procedures to produce and characterize biofilm reference materials that would provide the UK with a unique market opportunity. Reference materials provide important revenue sources in a number of areas, such as environment pollutant testing, medical devices and industry chemistry. The methods to characterize them demonstrates leading scientific expertise at an international level.
Have you been involved in any public engagement or outreach activities?
I always enjoy training people in the lab and mentoring them, and have also been involved in several outreach and engagement activities. Opportunities to organise meetings and outreach events has helped a lot in my professional development. For the Southampton Science and Engineering Festival (SOTSEF) I organised and gave groups of kids from local schools the chance to hear from real microbiologists and to have a go at work we actually do every day. I brought together several of my colleagues from different disciplines to develop the different activities for the kids to experience.
In 2020, I organised the Young Microbiologists Symposium (YMS), which is all about bringing together graduate students, post-doctoral researchers and new investigators to discuss their current research. I think it provides a great opportunity for young scientists to talk about their work and gain advice on their career from senior academics and their peers. It is also a great platform for networking and for potential future collaborations. Organising the event was hard work and it took a lot of management, but the response from attendees absolutely made it worthwhile. I felt that it supported my development as an early career scientist and I think it’s very important for this initiative to continue in years to come.