An interview with Professor Ian Connerton
Ian Connerton is Professor of Food Safety and Head of the Microbiology, Brewing and Biotechnology Division at the University of Nottingham. In this interview, he tells us more about his research and why controlling foodborne pathogens and the microbiomes of farm animals can promote health.
I am Professor of Food Safety and Head of the Microbiology, Brewing and Biotechnology Division at the University of Nottingham. I teach undergraduate microbiology and have research interests in the applications of bacteriophage, for the control foodborne pathogens and the microbiomes of farm animals to improve health and productivity.
Why is your research important?
Bacteriophage or just phage, are specific non-antibiotic agents that can control pathogenic bacteria in clinical, agricultural and food production settings. Targeted host specificity means minimal collateral damage to microbial ecosystems and the ability of phage to adapt to their host means they are sustainable. Phage can kill antibiotic resistant bacteria and in a post-antibiotic era we will need to use all the tools at our disposal.
Environmental and consumer concerns are driving changes in animal production towards a lower environmental footprint and increasing expectations of animal welfare. At the same time, the worldwide use of antibiotic growth promoters is not a thing of the past. Probiotic and prebiotic feeds offer a sustainable alternative to modify the gut microbiota of farm animals to promote health, increase pathogen resistance, and ultimately improve productivity.
What are the challenges you face in your work and how do you try to overcome them?
Meeting the expectations of students and staff whilst delivering on industrial research milestones is a constant challenge. Time management is an essential skill but must be flexible to accommodate the science or important discoveries from the lab may pass unnoticed.
Why is it important to be a member of an organisation like the Microbiology Society?
I have been a member of the Society for more years than I can remember, but in the early years of my research career, Society meetings provided a focus to present my research and interact with colleagues. The Society is also a conduit to science policy that enables microbiologists to engage in national and international debates.
Why does microbiology matter?
All of us interact with microbes and viruses every day of our lives. They influence our physical and mental health, our environment and food security. Some of these interactions are essential while others are clearly detrimental to health. The microbial world simply cannot be ignored.