Elizabeth Peterson, mentee in the 2019 MedTech-Pharma program in NSW (UTS)

I’m a second year PhD student in the molecular and microbiological sciences. I am completing my PhD at the University of Technology Sydney with the ithree Institute. My research is in investigating bacterial cell shape changes, specifically the morphology of filamentation. Bacterial filamentation is a shape change where bacteria become very long “spaghetti-like” cells. It is thought that filamentation affords bacteria survival advantages against predators such as protists and the host immune response. My research is about understanding whether the survival advantages filamentation provides is due to undergoing this size/shape change or whether there are physiological differences between filaments and the rod shaped cells we normally see.

I think this knowledge will be particularly useful in helping to combat infections where bacterial filamentation is known to occur, such as during urinary tract infections. This is important because UTIs are extremely common with 1 in 3 women experiencing a UTI before the age of 24. They also have a high rate of reoccurrence and since the only way to treat them currently is with antibiotics there is a fear that antibiotic resistance could prevent us from treating them altogether. Thus, understanding how filamentation assists bacteria during infections is essential to producing alternative treatments.