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Investigating plasmid transmission in bacterial pathogens

Plasmid transmission between bacteria of the same or different species is an important driver of genetic diversity, bacterial adaptation and evolution. In the clinical setting, the transmission of plasmids between hospital pathogens such as K. pneumoniae plays a critical role in the dissemination of virulence and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) genes that can subsequently imbue strains with the ability to cause invasive and untreatable infections. Outside of the clinical setting, bacterial samples from animal and environmental sources are also enriched with plasmids, and alongside the occasional detection of AMR genes, also encode for other lifestyle-enhancing traits such as heavy metal resistance or virulence. Differences in plasmid distributions across the bacterial population and within different sampling niches highlight complexities in both the transmission dynamics of different plasmids and the varying ability of bacterial strains to uptake and maintain plasmids. For example, the AMR plasmids are detected at higher frequencies in the bacterial populations that circulate and cause outbreaks in hospitals. Plasmid evolution experiments have so far provided some insights into both bacterial and plasmid mechanisms responsible for this variation in transmission, but many questions remain unanswered. This project will use conjugation experiments to examine how plasmid transmission and maintenance dynamics varies across Klebsiella strains from different sampling origins (i.e. clinical vs non-clinical) and genetically distinct lineages, in addition to plasmid types. A high throughput and reliable assay will be developed to perform, reproduce and detect plasmid conjugation and successful uptake. These insights will be important for identifying ‘high risk’ species, lineages or plasmids that have higher plasmid transmission/uptake rates, and therefore may be important targets in genomic surveillance or transmission intervention strategies.
Essential criteria: 
Minimum entry requirements can be found here:
virulence, antimicrobial resistance, AMR, plasmid transmission, nosocomial pathogens, bacteria, physiology ,pharmacology, microbiology, anatomy, developmental biology, molecular biology, biochemistry, immunology, human pathology, clinical
Central Clinical School » Infectious Diseases
Available options 
Time commitment 
Physical location 
Burnet Institute
Kathryn Holt

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