Annual Conference 2024: Hot Topic Lecture

05 February 2024

Hot t L.png

At Annual Conference 2024, held at the Edinburgh International Convention Centre, the Hot Topic Lecture will be held on 11 April.

The Lecture, ‘Faecal Flows – a very short history of microbiology, sewers, and Britain's rivers (ca.1850-2023)’ will be given by Dr Claas Kirchhelle of University College, Dublin.


Rivers are many things. For millennia, they have provided humans with water, energy, and food. They are key transport and communication routes. Just as importantly, they have always served as sewers for the societies living on their banks. To dive into the history of these dirty waters is also to dive into the history of microbiology. Building on William Budd’s 1856 description of sewage-polluted streams as a “continuation of the human intestine”, this lecture traces the history of Britain’s faecal flows as a driver of microbiological research and innovation. From Victorian sewage farms to phage-based wastewater surveillance and antimicrobial resistance (AMR), it shows how engagement with the faeces, chemicals, and microbes in our waterways has led to an increasingly ecological understanding of the intersection between human, animal, and environmental health.

Dr Kirchhelle is a historian of 'bugs and drugs'. Based at University College Dublin, he researches the history of microbial environments, public health, and antibiotic and vaccine innovation and regulation. Since completing his DPhil in 2015, he has authored three critically-acclaimed books on the history of antibiotics in food production (Pyrrhic Progress, 2020), animal welfare, science, and activism (Bearing Witness, 2021), and typhoid control (Typhoid, 2022). Engaging non-academic public and policymakers is an important part of his research. He has co-curated two multi award-winning exhibition projects on the history of penicillin (Back from the Dead) and typhoid (Typhoidland). He is also the author of the expert report on UK public health systems and pandemic preparedness between 1939 and 2019 for the COVID-19 Inquiry. He holds an honorary fellowship at the Oxford Vaccine Group and is an elected Fellow of the Royal Historical Society.

On the opportunity to present the Hot Topic Lecture at the Microbiology Society’s Annual Conference, Dr Kirchhelle said: “It is a huge honour to give the Society of Microbiology’s 2024 hot topic presentation. When it comes to exploring our microbial past and present, history and the biomedical sciences can learn a lot from each other. My own research on the history of antimicrobial resistance and bacteriophages could not have been done without intensive collaboration with colleagues from across microbiology – and I am excited to share some of our findings in Edinburgh.”