James Docherty

PhD Student

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Gut viruses & viromics

I am a current PhD student investigating the infant gut virome and bacteriome in the Adriaenssens’ research group.

My passion for microbiology first began in secondary school when topics, such as antibiotic resistance, were first introduced in science class. Following on, I undertook an A-level in Biology and then a BSc (Hons) degree in the same subject, which only heightened my enthusiasm and desire to further explore the microbial world. It was in my undergraduate research project where I was introduced to bacteriophage biology, from which I gained insight into their considerable therapeutic potential and ecological significance. Final year studies encouraged me to undertake an MSc Biotechnology programme, where I researched plasmid stability in transgenic E. coli using continuous cultures. Upon completing my studies, I remained at the University of Lincoln, where I was employed as the Graduate Intern Technician for Life Sciences and then the Laboratory Technician for Microbiology. Here, I gained further experience in the isolation, culture, and characterisation of bacteriophages, in addition to the use of chemostats. My studies and employment experience inspired me to take on a PhD in an emerging field of study, which led me to join Dr Evelien Adriaenssens’ research group.

Recent scientific and technological advances have revealed that the human microbiome is involved in numerous biological processes and has significant associations with a vast range of diseases. Despite growing interest in this evolving field and increasing evidence implicating bacteriophages as potential drivers of health and disease, the gut virome often remains overlooked and underexplored. As such, my research area focusses on investigating the influence of enteric phages on the colonisation of highly important bacteria belonging to the Bifidobacterium genus in infants. Bifidobacteria are crucial members of the gut microbiome, particularly in early life, and were considered to be free from phage predation until recent years. As key drivers of numerous community structures in nature, are bacteriophages also important modulators in the human gastrointestinal tract?

My PhD project will ultimately aim to answer whether phages in the infant gut are either good, bad, or perhaps even neutral.