An interview with Dr Amy Pickering

Dr Amy Pickering is a Research Fellow and Lab Manager based at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh. She is a member of the Microbiology Society and Chair of the ECM Forum Executive. In this interview she tells us more about her research into the evolution and pathogenesis of Staphylococcal species, why this is important, and why it is Dr Amy Pickering is a Research Fellow and Lab Manager based at the Roslin Institute at the University of Edinburgh. She is a member of the Microbiology Society and Chair of the ECM Forum Executive. In this interview she tells us more about her research into the evolution and pathogenesis of Staphylococcal species, why this is important, and why it is important to be so involved with the Microbiology Society. important to be so involved with the Microbiology Society. 

Amy Pickering
© Amy Pickering

Tell us more about your research.

I am a Research Fellow and Lab Manager in Professor J. Ross Fitzgerald’s research group at the Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh, and I have worked with Ross for over eight years as a wet lab researcher. Ross’ group is interested in understanding the evolution and pathogenesis of Staphylococcal species. We are a multi-disciplinary team that uses both dry and wet lab techniques to identify evolutionary traits associated with Staphylococcal host-adaptation and host-switching.

During my PhD, I worked with the canine-adapted opportunistic pathogen, Staphylococcus pseudintermedius, and focused on the interaction of this bacteria with host fibrinogen. I am now working with Staphylococcus aureus strains that are bovine adapted. My research is aimed at characterising the mechanisms that are required for an S. aureus strain to become specialized to the bovine host. You can find out more about the group here.

Why is it important to understand the mechanisms of bacterial host-adaptation?

The principal aim of Ross’ research, into bacterial host-switching, is to identify ways of preventing bacteria from jumping between hosts. When micro-organisms jump from one host to another, they can cause outbreaks of disease and/or contamination of food. By understanding the genetic adaptations that are vital for host-switching to occur, we can target specific proteins and pathways as therapies to block host-switching and prevent outbreaks from occurring. We can also use the information to treat infections in the natural host, for instance to treat bovine mastitis, by the development of novel therapeutics or vaccines.

What do you most enjoy about working in a research laboratory?

I enjoy how varied working in a research lab can be, and that each day brings new questions and new challenges. My fellow work colleagues will tell you that I’m always filling lots into my day and I enjoy feeling efficient and maximizing my time. We have a great lab environment, with everyone working together as a team. This makes doing research so much easier! And I enjoy being able to help the other members of the group.   

What are the challenges you face in your work and how do you try to overcome them?

The most common challenges I face are usually technical, I’m constantly troubleshooting my own, or someone else’s, cloning problems. Apart from that, dividing my time appropriately between experiments, managing the lab, and helping others can be a challenge. But hopefully I get the balance right most of the time. 

What is your involvement in the Microbiology Society?

I first joined the Microbiology Society as a PhD student. When I heard that an Early Career Forum was forming, I knew I wanted to be involved. I was successful in becoming the first conference's representative of the Forum and took up the Chair position from Jan 2019. As the Chair, I am working to ensure that early career microbiologists are a community of researchers who have access to development opportunities, and grants to allow them to succeed in microbiology. The ECM Forum is an active community on LinkedIn, and we would love for you to get involved.

Why is it important to be a member of an organisation like the Microbiology Society?

Aside from my involvement in the ECM Forum, I’ve received multiple opportunities from being a member of the Microbiology Society. As a PhD student, I have received conference grants, allowing me to present my research at multiple international conferences. I was also fortunate enough to receive a Harry Smith Vacation Studentship, allowing me to spend 3 months in the US as part of my PhD studies. This was an invaluable experience, where I was able to gain new technical skills as well as experience an alternative research environment. My involvement in the ECM Forum means that I am continuing to gain so much from being a member of the Microbiology Society, as well as being able to make a contribution back to the Society.

Why does microbiology matter?

We wouldn’t be able to survive without the microbes that are inside of us. Microbiology matters because it helps us to understand ourselves!


If you are a member of the Society and would like to find out more about how you can get involved with Society activities and/or showcase your research, please email us at [email protected].