I am interested in the role of the environment in transmission of environmental pathogens, in particular mycobacteria, such as those responsible for causing tuberculosis in humans (primarily Mycobacterium tuberculosis) and animals (primarily Mycobacterium bovis). Research focuses on epidemiological studies of M. bovis in the environment in the UK and in the Republic of Ireland. As part of an international team of researchers, I have been involved in development, optimisation and validation of a molecular detection test for M. bovis in the environment. This test is being applied to investigate the efficacy of badger vaccination against bTB. I am also interested in the transmission dynamics of mycobacteria in Africa, looking at the role of the environment in the spread of both M. tuberculosis and M. bovis in human, domestic animal and wildlife populations.
Another interest is in the field of bioremediation, the use of microorganisms to clear pollution. I am interested in the interplay between plants and bacteria in the remediation of a number of persistent chemicals. I have investigated a site where poplar trees are established to phytoremediate trichloroethylene (TCE) present in the shallow groundwater, with a particular interest in the bacterial community of the rhizosphere zone. I have characterised the physiological, functional and genetic composition of the microbial community. Plant secondary metabolites have been utilised to stimulate microbial transformation of TCE, since aerobic dehalogenation is a cometabolic process that requires a primary substrate in order to induce the responsible monoxygenase enzymes. I have also been looking at the transformation of TCE by plant tissue culture. I have also looked at how the soil microbial community was affected by pollution with nitroaromatic compounds and how pollution affected the resilience of the bacterial community to further perturbation by heavy metals. The impact of planting wildtype and transgenic trinitrotoluene-tolerant tobacco on the soil microbial community was also determined.
A further strand of my research interests lies in the development and implementation in C of mathematical models to simulate mutator densities, under both spatially and temporally variable environmental conditions. Other professional interests include the response of plants to environmental stresses. I also have an interest in synthetic biology. I have been involved in the Glasgow iGEM 2007 synthetic biology project, supervising a team of 11 undergraduates, comprising of a mixture of molecular biologists and computer modellers.