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Lucy Weinert

The ecology and genomics of bacterial pathogens

I am an evolutionary biologist whose major research goal is to understand why and how bacteria become pathogens. Identifying common features of pathogen emergence - whether they be repeated genomic changes or shared epidemiological contexts - would give us predictive power. This might allow us to forecast pathogen emergence, to develop preventative strategies, or improve treatments.

Genome reduction and pathogenicity

We are currently studying the link between reductive genome evolution and pathogenicity. Bacterial pathogens very often have smaller genomes and fewer genes than their nearest non-pathogenic relatives. However, despite much speculation, it remains unclear why this pattern holds. We are addressing this phenomenon using Streptococcus suis, a bacterium that is common in non-pathogenic forms, but which also causes serious diseases in pigs and humans (Weinert et al. 2015a). We sample whole genomes of global S. suis populations and use bioinformatic and laboratory approaches to test hypotheses about gene loss and pathogenicity.

Host switches

Some of our most serious pandemics are caused by pathogens switching and establishing in a new host species. We use bacterial genomes, molecular dating and information about host species to examine how bacteria adapt to the new host and the ecological context for switching. For example, we showed that farming practices (Weinert et al. 2012; Weinert et al. 2015a), host relatedness (Waxman et al. 2014) and host immunity (Weinert et al. 2015b) are predictors of host switch and/or establishment success.

Antimicrobial resistance and vaccine development

Antimicrobial resistance threatens the effective treatment of bacterial infections and makes routine medical procedures less safe. We investigate the genetic basis and evolution of antimicrobial resistance genes in a range of different bacteria. We also use bacterial genomics to create new vaccines with the goal of reducing antimicrobial usage.


 

Key Publications

Google Scholar - list of all publications

Weinert LA, Welch JJ (2017) Why Might Bacterial Pathogens Have Small Genomes? Trends in Ecology and Evolution 32: 936-947

Weinert LA, Chaudhuri RR, Wang J, Peters SE, Jukka Corander J, Jombart T, Baig A, Howell KJ, Harris D, Chieu TTB, Chau NVV, Campbell J, Schultsz C, Julian Parkhill J, Bentley SD, Langford PR, Rycroft AN, Wren BW, Farrar J, Baker S, Hoa NT, Holden MTG, Tucker AW, Maskell DJ (2015a) Genomic signatures of human and animal disease in the zoonotic pathogen Streptococcus suis. Nature Communications 6: 7640 

Weinert LA*, Viera Araujo E*, Ahmed MZ, Welch JJ (2015b) The incidence of bacterial endosymbionts in terrestrial arthropods. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series B 282: 20150249

Weinert LA, Depledge DP, Kundu S, Gershon AA, Balloux F, Nichols RA, Welch JJ, Breuer J (2015c) Rates of vaccine evolution show strong effects of latency, but argue against an Out-of-Africa spread of Varicella Zoster virus. Molecular Biology and Evolution 32: 1020-1028 

Weinert LA. (2015) The diversity and phylogeny of Rickettsia bacteria. In: Morand S, Krasnov BR, Littlewood, DTJ (eds.) Parasite diversity and diversification: evolutionary ecology meets phylogenetics pp. 150-183. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Waxman D*, Weinert LA*, Welch JJ (2014) Inferring host range dynamics from comparative data: the protozoan parasites of New World monkeys. The American Naturalist 184: 65-74

Weinert LA, Welch JJ, Suchard M, Lemey P, Rambaut A, Fitzgerald JR. (2012) Molecular dating of human-to-bovid host jumps in Staphylococcus aureus reveals an association with the spread of domestication. Biology Letters 8: 829-832 (doi: 10.1098/rsbl.2012.0290)

*= joint lead authorship

Lucy Weinert

Dr Lucy Weinert

Principal Investigator Wellcome Trust

Royal Society Henry Dale Fellow

lw461@cam.ac.uk

Group members: Nazreen Hadjirin, Eric Miller, Lucy Van Dorp, Tom Wileman

Plain english

Some bacteria cause the world’s most serious diseases, but other, related bacteria, are quite harmless, or even beneficial to their hosts. Our group uses the genomes of these bacteria, along with statistics, programming and laboratory approaches to understand why bacteria want to harm us and how they evolved to do so.

Funding

Wellcome Trust
Royal Society
Medical Research Council (MRC)
The Newton Fund
Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF)

Lucy is currently accepting applications from PhD students. Lucy is also available for consultancy.