Staff Mobility with the University of Cologne, Germany

I received the Santander Staff Mobility Award to initiate a collaboration between the University of Surrey and the University of Cologne. During my visit, I presented an overview of my research to the research group of Dr Paul Higgins (Figure 1). This was an opportunity to showcase my own research and allow the group to think of areas where collaborative research could be undertaken. There were several fruitful conversations with members of Paul’s group, on antimicrobial resistance and projects where my expertise would valuable.

Two main projects were discussed, where my expertise using the Galleria mellonella invertebrate model, would be beneficial. The first collaborative project, would be to determine if colistin and tigecycline resistance, effected virulence in vivo. Several well-characterised strains of colistin/tigecycline-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, are to be sent to the University of Surrey for testing. On arrival, comparative virulence assays will be undertaken over 96 h. G. mellonella larvae will be monitored for life/death and melanisation (an indicator of morbidity) to determine if antibiotic-resistant strains are fit and able to cause infection.

The second project discussed, would be to determine if specific conditions effect the expression, of several genes involved in antibiotic resistance. Individuals at the University of Cologne have investigated gene expression under various conditions in vitro, including pH, temperature, and presence of antibiotics. Expression of these resistance genes was monitored via green fluorescent protein (GFP) labelling. However, is has yet to be determined if/when these genes are expressed in a living system (in vivo). At the University of Surrey, G. mellonella larvae will be inoculated with strains of A. baumannii with differing GFP-labelled resistance genes. Due to the thin skin of G. mellonella larvae, fluorescence can easily be monitored, allowing gene expression to be determined phenotypically. It is expected that several publications will result from this work, with the additional aim of using this data, to obtain further research funding for the Universities of Surrey and Cologne.

As part of my visit there was also an opportunity to learn a new research technique. The research of Higgins group involves the genetic characterisation of multidrug-resistant bacteria. The research group also links with the diagnostic laboratory at the University of Cologne, where Paul’s expertise in whole genome sequencing (WGS), allows the genetic mapping and comparison of strains causing infections, to determine whether there is a possible outbreak. Over several days I was shown by Paul and members of his group, how to prepare DNA libraries for illumina® sequencing and how the data analysis is conducted. This has given me a greater understanding of WGS and its potential applications in the research conducted at the University of Surrey.

Overall, the visit to the University of Cologne was extremely interesting and productive, with a clear plan for future collaborative research. I would like to thank the Santander Staff Mobility Award scheme for providing the funding necessary to conduct my visit and Dr Paul Higgins for hosting me in Cologne.

Figure 1. Myself and members of the Higgins research group, in Cologne.