An interview with Dr Paul Fogg

October 2020

Dr Paul Fogg is a Sir Henry Dale Fellow at the University of York and a member of the Microbiology Society. His research focuses on Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT), and in this interview, he tells us more about his research, including how working to understand rapid bacterial evolution can help to predict and fight the spread of antibiotic resistance.

Paul Fogg
© Paul Fogg

Tell us a little about your area of research.

The aim of my work is to understand the mechanisms of rapid bacterial evolution by horizontal gene transfer. In particular, I am interested in bacteriophages and a phage-like system known as Gene Transfer Agents (GTAs). Unlike phages, GTAs do not preferentially transmit their own DNA but instead will package and spread any and all DNA present in the host cell. This lack of discrimination means that any gene could be mobilized, and when those genes encode toxins or antibiotic resistance, it could have a great impact on us.

Why is your research important?

Non-pathogenic and mildly pathogenic bacteria can quickly become potent pathogens by acquiring new genes by Horizontal Gene Transfer (HGT). Practically any gene can be spread by the various mechanisms of HGT, but particularly alarming at the moment is the proliferation of antibiotic resistance genes. Understanding how HGT occurs in different bacteria will allow us to more effectively predict and fight the spread of antibiotic resistance.

Why does microbiology matter?

The impact of microbiology is immense and vitally important for so many different aspects of our lives from food production to biotechnology, from the environment to health and disease. Only through the detailed study of micro-organisms can we hope to harness their potential for good and temper the harm they sometimes cause.

Why did you join the Microbiology Society?

The Microbiology Society is one of the preeminent learned societies and I have personally always valued the Society’s commitment to supporting young scientists. Travel grants allowed me to attend scientific meetings during my PhD, which was a fantastic opportunity to present my work and see cutting edge discoveries being made in the field. At a formative stage of my career, these experiences were extremely valuable and inspired me to pursue a life of science. As my career has progressed, I am happy to continue to contribute in any way possible to allow the next generation of microbiologists to receive similar inspiration.

What would your advice be to anyone thinking about joining the Society?

Do it! And take advantage of all the opportunities the Society provides; whether that’s attending various Society meetings, taking up the chance to have an impact on policy, or the ability to network with leading microbiologists.

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].