An interview with Professor Eshwar Mahenthiralingam

December 2019

Professor Eshwar Mahenthiralingam is Co-Director of Research at the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University. In this interview he tells us more about his research which focuses on bacteria which cause opportunistic infections and why microbiology is important for global industrial areas such as food production and the manufacture of multiple goods.

Eshwar Mahenthiralingam
© Eshwar Mahenthiralingam

Tell us about your research.

My main area of research focuses on bacteria which cause opportunistic infections. These bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Burkholderia species, live in the natural environment but when a person or host organism is vulnerable, they can also cause infections. I examined multiple aspects of their microbiology including their identification and taxonomy, natural biology, ability to cause infections and antimicrobial resistance. In the last 10 years I have also begun in antibiotic discovery programme looking specifically for novel drug candidates that are produced by Burkholderia bacteria. All my research takes a molecular and genomic approach to microbiology to examine fundamental processes to understand how these bacteria interact with other microorganisms and host organisms.

Why is this research important?

My research is important for multiple reasons. A major clinical focus has been around preventing Pseudomonas and Burkholderia lung infections in people with cystic fibrosis. These bacteria cause chronic infections which ultimately cannot be treated by current antibiotics and lead to reduced life expectancy for people with CF. In contrast to these devastating infection traits, as noted above Burkholderia produce multiple novel natural products many of which are antimicrobial. We have discovered Burkholderia antibiotics that can treat multidrug resistant bacteria such as Acinetobacter baumannii and Mycobacterium tuberculosis. We have also found that Burkholderia bacteria produce antimicrobials such as cepacin which is very important in allowing them to protect germinating crops from attack by fungal pathogens.

Why does microbiology matter?

Microbiology is a fundamental scientific discipline without which many other avenues of biological or biomedical research cannot be carried out. Understanding molecular and genomic processes in micro-organisms has also enabled multiple pioneering discoveries to be made. Beyond infections, microbiology is really important for global industrial areas such as food production and the manufacture of multiple goods such as cosmetics, toiletries and personal care products. Many micro-organisms cause contamination problems for the food and manufacturing industry, and I have also studied Pseudomonas and Burkholderia bacteria as industrial contaminants. So, while microbiology as a fundamental scientific discipline it affects many other areas of science and society - that’s why it matters!

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