Honey, Genomics and Science Soundbites

21st October 2022

Dr Muhammad Yasir’s passion for science has taken him from studying honey to turning scientific papers into soundbites

Dr Muhammad Yasir works in Professor Mark Webber’s group, investigating the evolution of antimicrobial resistance using functional genomics. He has recently launched a new Audio Paper Series, turning scientific papers into short soundbites. We caught up with Yasir to find out more about his career and the new audio project.

A man wearing a shirt and navy jumper leaning against a half wall inside the Quadram Institute building.

“My interest in antibiotic resistance started when I was a master’s student studying antibacterial activity of honey.

There is a honey produced in New Zealand called Manuka honey which is believed to have antimicrobial properties. I compared Manuka honey with Beri honey, a honey produced in Pakistan, looking at each of their antimicrobial properties.

I treated three different types of bacteria with honey, including bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. I found that Manuka honey was more effective than the Beri honey, and I hypothesized, one ingredient called MGO, is responsible for the high antimicrobial effect of Manuka honey. When this compound is added to Beri honey, it makes it as effective at treating antibiotic-resistant bacteria as Manuka honey.

This sparked an interest in me to understand the mechanisms going on in antibiotic resistance.

As I read more about antibiotic resistance, I found that everything is connected to genomes. Genomes contain genes, which when switched on, produce products (proteins) that are responsible for cell functions and signaling.

I thought if I can find how gene regulation happens then maybe I can find the on/off switch for antimicrobial resistance. It turns out that it’s much more complicated than that, but that’s where my interest in gene regulation began.

Inspired to find out more, I studied gene regulation in disease-causing E.coli bacteria while working at the University of Birmingham in Professor Steve Busby’s lab.

I was still interested in how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics inspired by my masters’ project. So, after working in Birmingham, I joined Professor Ian Charles and Professor Mark Webber’s group here at the Quadram Institute, where I combine my interest in antimicrobial resistance with genomics to understand mechanisms involved in antibiotic resistance.

Dr Keith Turner and I developed and optimized functional genomic tools, that we use to find out the role of each gene involved in helping bacteria grow in any particular environment including the presence of antibiotics. We can also find out which genes are the weak points of the bacteria that hinder their growth in that environment.

To understand and use the data from functional genomics, we have to do an extensive literature research. From talking to colleagues and reading about the impact of social media, I’ve noticed the habits of scientists are changing from reading papers in the library to spending more time online.

Generally reading habits have changed altogether and we see the trend of audiobooks. This has reached the scientific community too; we’re seeing a few journals offer audio versions of their articles.  Adapting scientific research papers to an audio version can be beneficial to scientists and help productivity.

Initially I thought maybe there could be way to automate the text to audio of papers, so I could listen to them while I’m driving, walking or cooking. But this didn’t work very well. When you put a pdf into an audio reader it starts at the very top of the document and it takes a long time, when it comes to abstract, results or discussion section. When there are formulas, scientific abbreviations or species names, the audio reader currently can’t cope with it very well.

I had the idea of making an Audio Paper Series as an alternative to audiobooks for scientists who want to keep up to date with research. I’ve recently started the project, recording fellow researchers talking about their research papers, called Science Soundbites Audio Paper Series.

It gives the audience the convenience to listen at anytime, anywhere, when they are interested in that topic. I hope it might make papers more accessible for young scientists like undergraduates and postgraduate students.

Starting the new series has had its challenges. Like most people, I find it difficult listening to my own voice! I think some of the people I interviewed were a little nervous too but together it was a fun learning experience. I have done eight interviews and recordings until now and it feels more of a routine.

Initially the series starts within the Webber Group. Even though we are all working on antibiotic resistance mechanisms, the projects are quite diverse. Some of the group work on biofilm formation and evolution models, so we explore those topics in the series.

Our group has collaborations studying Typhoid with Dr Gemma Langridge’s group here at the Quadram Institute and that’s something we’ll be exploring in the series too.

The series is not limited to the research of the group I work in, I will be talking to people from across the Quadram Institute. I hope to make the exciting work that we do here more accessible to the world and keep the scientific community updated with novel research findings.”

Science Soundbites episodes are released every Wednesday

Related People

Related Targets

Targeting antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial Resistance

Related Research Groups

Webber group

Mark Webber

Related Research Areas

Targeting microbes in the food chain

Microbes in the Food Chain