Intro: Kelly Wyres - a computational microbiologist

Posted by on 1 May 2017 | Comments

Kelly Wyres photo

So for the next month I’m very excited to say that I will be taking the reins as ASM Communications Ambassador. I’m looking forward to sharing and discussing exciting microbiology news and events. I’ll let you know right now that I love learning and thinking about bacteria, particularly how their DNA evolves, so you may notice a slight bias in my postings. Having said that, I won’t say no to any interesting virus, fungi or protist news either!

If you have something interesting you would like me to share, or if you would just like to say hello, please get in touch: @AUSSOCMIC on Twitter, @AustralianSocietyForMicrobiology on Facebook or via LinkedIN.

A little about me and microbiology...

I started my microbiology journey during my undergraduate degree, back home in the UK at the University of Oxford. I studied Biological Sciences and chose the "Biology of Infectious Diseases" as one of my major elective components. After my undergrad I took a lab tech position investigating the epidemiology of a bacterial insect pathogen, Bacillus thuringiensis, and it was this role that really helped me to realise my favourite research area i.e. bacterial genetics and genomics.

After my year as a lab tech (and an awesome back-packing trip down under) I started my doctorate on the genome evolution of another bacterial pathogen, Streptococcus pneumoniae. I focused on the evolution of penicillin resistance and vaccine escape, using a mixture of traditional and next generation DNA sequence data. This meant that I started with a lot of wet-lab work, and later transitioned to purely computational analyses.

When I completed my doctorate I moved to Melbourne and spent a couple of years in industry at IBM Research – Australia, before starting my current post-doc position in the Holt bacterial genomics lab at the University of Melbourne. My research focuses on understanding the genomic epidemiology and evolution of Klebsiella pneumoniae. At the moment I’m particularly interested in the evolution of specific groups of K. pneumoniae, called ‘clones’, which are causing two very different public health problems; 1) multi-drug resistant hospital infections and; 2) severe drug-susceptible liver infections in the community.

I’m a computational microbiologist

Here we are, my first potentially contentious statement: I like to call myself a computational microbiologist rather than a bioinformatician. It’s true - I use bioinformatics techniques to analyse my data. I can and do write a little computer code, but my primary focus isn’t developing new analysis algorithms or techniques, it’s exploring biological questions.

So what do I actually do all day? Well, like any academic researcher I need to do a whole host of different activities. Reading papers, formulating hypotheses, running experiments or analyses, trouble-shooting these analyses, trouble-shooting a bit more and then trying to work out what it all means. The main difference from traditional wet-lab work is that my “experiments” are all run on computers, and rather than fiddling with reagent concentrations or temperatures, my trouble-shooting involves hunting for typos and formatting errors in code, or in my data files. Just like wet-lab work there are challenges and frustrations, and also the exciting sense of achievement when things work and you actually discover something new. And of course, it’s that last part that makes me love what I do. :)

If you would like to find out more about my research or other research that I think is cool, you can follow me on my personal twitter account @kelwyres or check out the Holt lab web pages at holtlab.net.

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