Evolution of Pathogenicity
For pathogenic bacteria, relatively rapid genetic exchange is a major asset as the shuffling of genes, coupled with acquisition of virulence factors from other species, assists in avoidance of immune attack and offers the potential for colonising new hosts and niches. Our research interests encompass the area of genetic recombination and DNA repair with an emphasis on how enzymes recognise, manipulate and resolve the DNA structures generated in these reactions. Current work is directed at understanding the pathways of recombination in bacteriophages and how these exchanges influence pathogen evolution.
The emergence of new pathogenic organisms by the acquisition of virulence determinants from other bacterial species is a major public health concern and provides a serious challenge for medicine in the future. Bacterial viruses, or phages, are increasingly being recognised as potent mediators of horizontal gene transfer between species. It has long been known that phages carry virulence genes, including toxins, antibiotic resistance factors, type III secretion systems, surface proteins, and extracellular enzymes. In fact, numerous bacteria owe their pathogenicity to gene products expressed from prophages. Our research aims to characterise the enzymes responsible for promoting frequent gene exchanges and identify their function at each stage of the recombination pathway.