Edinburgh Infectious Diseases
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Many congratulations to 2018 Ker Memorial Prize Winner Rodrigo Bacigalupe

Edinburgh Infectious Diseases is delighted to announce that the winner of this year's Ker Memorial Prize for the best PhD thesis in Infectious Diseaes at the University of Edinburgh has been awarded to Dr Rodrigo Bacigalupe.

Rodrigo Bacigalupe
Rodrigo Bacigalupe, winner of the 2018 Ker Memorial Prize

Ker Memorial Prize

The Ker Memorial Prize is awarded annually to the PhD student who has submitted the best thesis in Infectious Disease research during that year, and as such is a great honour both to the student and to his or supervisor.

Rodrigo Bacigalupe graduated in Biology from the University of Salamanca and completed an MSc in Bioinformatics from the University of Edinburgh. In 2013, he joined Ross Fitzgerald's lab at The Roslin Institute where he did his PhD in Population Genomics of Bacterial Pathogens Niche Adaptation.

After completing his PhD in 2017, Rodrigo went to work on translational bioinformatics at Navarrabiomed, and has recently moved to the VIB-KU Leuven Center for Microbiology as a postdoctoral scientist, where he is pursuing research on microbiome transmission dynamics.

Rodrigo's prize is £500 and the opportunity to present his thesis work at the Edinbugh Infectious Diseases Annual Symposium on 23 May 2018.

Fitzgerald lab webpage

Ker Memorial Lecture

We are very pleased that Professor Michael Ferguson from the University of Dundee will present the 2018 Ker Memorial Lecture on Drugs for Neglected Diseases - A Very Collective Endeavour at our Annual Symposium.

Professor Mike Ferguson
Professor Mike Ferguson, Regius Professor of Life Sciences, University of Dundee

Mike obtained a BSc in Biochemistry at The University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (1979) and a PhD in Biochemistry (1982) at London University. He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Rockefeller University, New York, with George Cross, FRS (1982-1985) and at Oxford University with Raymond Dwek, FRS (1985-1988).  He took up a lectureship at The University of Dundee in 1988 and was promoted to a personal chair in Molecular Parasitology in 1994.  He became Dean of Research for the School of Life Sciences at The University of Dundee in 2007.

Mike has published over 200 peer reviewed research papers and given numerous invited lectures at Scientific Meetings around the world. He is known for solving the first structures of glycosylphosphatidylinositol (GPI) membrane anchors, which play important roles throughout eukaryotic biology.

His research takes a multidisciplinary approach to understanding the biochemistry of protozoan parasites that cause tropical diseases, particularly the trypanosomatids that cause human African Sleeping Sickness, Chagas' disease and leishmaniasis. 

He believes in the fundamental importance of working across the Biology / Chemistry interface and he has published extensively in this area. He is particularly interested in Translational Research and, together with his colleagues, was instrumental in establishing the new Drug Discovery Unit at the University of Dundee.  He is also co-Director of the successful Dundee Proteomics Facility.

Mike was Dean of Research for Life Sciences from 2007-2014 and continues to play a role in Research Strategy.  He led the construction of, and directs, the Discovery Centre for Translational and Interdisciplinary Research, which opened in 2014.  He is also a member of the Board of Governors for The Wellcome Trust and the Board of Directors of the Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV).

About Rodrigo's work

Globally disseminated bacterial pathogens frequently cause outbreaks that are of major importance in public health. Sequencing and analysing the entire genomes of multiple bacteria facilitates the understanding of the evolution of infectious diseases, which is needed for their prevention, diagnosis and treatment. In this thesis, several genomic analyses of pathogenic bacteria from different niches were performed to study unresolved aspects of their evolution.

First, we created a global picture of the evolutionary history of Staphylococcus aureus, providing information of the frequent host-switching events that have occurred during the evolution of this species. In addition, we identified genes and signatures in the genome sequences that can explain adaptation to different host-species, which may represent novel therapeutic targets for controlling human and animal infections.

To further investigate the genetic basis of host-adaptation, sheep were infected with S. aureus strains from humans, and bacterial isolates passaged in the animals were sequenced. We investigated genomic changes acquired during evolution in a new host-species, revealing multiple types of mutations.

Coinfection experiments of additional sheep with original and passaged strains indicated that such genetic changes were the result of adaptation. Our results were unexpected given the continuous bottlenecks introduced by lambs suckling and transmission between animals, but computational simulations supported that beneficial mutations provide a fitness high enough to get fixed in the population.

Finally, we investigated the origin of a cluster of diseases caused by Legionella longbeachae in Scotland in 2013 using genomic approaches. In particular, we studied the evolution and relationships of bacterial isolates from patients and from environmental samples, aiming to identify the source of the infections. Our analysis revealed that a high diversity of bacteria exists in the environmental samples previous establishment of an infection, which complicates the epidemiological investigations if sampling is limited. In addition, genomic analysis showed an extraordinary exchange of genetic material between L. longbeachae and other species of the same genus.

Overall, our study demonstrates the application of genomics and evolutionary analysis to understand the mechanisms underlying bacterial adaptation to different ecological niches and provide new insights relevant to other bacterial pathogens with the capacity to spread between environments.

The Ker Memorial Prizes

The Ker Prizes are very generously supported by Miss Aileen Ker, in memory of two outstanding Edinburgh physicians, her grandfather Dr. Claude Buchanan Ker, and his son (her father), Dr. Frank Leighton Ker.

The Ker family also support the presentation of the Ker Memorial Lecture, given by an eminent invited scientist in Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Claude Buchanan Ker (1867-1925) spent his professional medical career in Edinburgh, working ceaselessly to improving the treatment of infectious diseases.  He is best remembered for his tireless efforts to build the City Fever Hospital which opened in Colinton in 1903, and of which he was medical superintendent for 21 years.

Dr. Frank Leighton Ker (1907-1966), began his medical career in Edinburgh and went on to carry out his main work at the East Birmingham Hospital, where he became medical superintendent in 1950.

The glowing and heartfelt obituaries written for both these men, show the enormous regard and affection in which they were held, and to which the Ker Memorial Prize and Lecture now provide fitting testimony.