Meet Early Career Microbiologist of the Year poster finalist: Afifah Tasnim

Posted on June 19, 2024   by Microbiology Society

This year the Microbiology Society is awarding two Early Career Microbiologist of the Year prizes. The prizes recognise excellence in science communication by a member who is an undergraduate, postgraduate student or within five years of appointment to their first position.

Each of the finalists, who were either speakers or poster presenters, were selected at Annual Conference 2024 to present their research in the poster or speaker final.  In the lead up to the poster  final, taking place on 9 July 2024 during the Early Career Summer Conference, we speak to poster finalist Afifah Tasnim from University of Warwick, UK.

© Afifah Tasnim

What are your current research interests? 

Nature provides a vast reservoir of antimicrobials and whilst many antibiotic discoveries have been made from natural products, there is a lack of focus on antiviral testing. Therefore, I am interested in testing natural products for antiviral activity.

My research is mainly focused on the influenza A virus, which causes around 400,000 deaths worldwide each year. Although antivirals against influenza have been developed, the virus has evolved resistant mutations against many of these drugs. This renders them ineffective which means investigation into new sources of potential antiviral therapies is necessary to combat resistance, as well as reduce influenza-associated deaths.

How would you explain your research to a GCSE student?

Many natural products produced by plants, bacteria and fungi possess strong antimicrobial activity. A study in 1990 showed a bacterial species found in soil produced a compound called MM 46115, which displayed antiviral activity against the influenza A virus (flu). This is interesting because flu infections cause 400,000 annual deaths, and although there are antiviral treatments which can prevent infections, the virus can mutate its genes to become resistant to these treatments. Therefore, my project aims to test the antiviral properties of MM 46115 to investigate whether it could potentially be a new treatment for the influenza virus.

What advice would you share with someone interested in working in this field?

Spend a lot of time going through the literature! Reading virology studies has helped me enhance my project in numerous ways. For instance, papers which focus on antiviral testing have given me many suggestions on how I can progress my project. They also introduced me to alternative pathways I could investigate, which I was completely unaware of. Also, don’t get disheartened if experiments don’t work the first time – they hardly ever do! I spent nearly a year trying to extract my natural product and although this was frustrating, the joy when it finally did work was immense!

As an early career microbiologist, what goals do you have for your career?

By the end of my PhD, I would like to have discovered the target and mechanism of action of my natural product. I think it would be a huge achievement to have contributed to the discovery of a potential new influenza antiviral. If I am given the opportunity, I would like to continue my work with this natural product by performing in vivo efficacy and safety testing. This project has also made me realise I have a huge interest in drug development; therefore, I would like to be involved in antiviral drug screening and testing in the future. 

How do Society events, such as Annual Conference, promote your professional development?

I have attended the Microbiology Society Annual Conference since I started my PhD. Presenting my poster at the previous conference was very beneficial, as it gave me an opportunity to showcase the findings from my project. Talking to researchers during the poster sessions allowed me to receive advice on how I can progress and improve my project. These sessions were also useful in helping me gain confidence in discussing my work in an informal setting, making it a good stepping stone to hopefully doing a talk at the next conference!

You can find and follow Afifah on X (formerly known as Twitter): @AfifahTasnim.