Meet Staph the Superbug

Margot McLauchlan
Thursday 25 June 2015
Greetings from the lab
Greetings from the lab

Hello Laidlaw interns! Five weeks into my project and this is what it’s looking like:

The project: I have cultured 103 isolates of staphylococcus aureus that have been genetically characterised (genome sequenced) by Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS). WGS is very high resolution and accordingly expensive. I will sequence the isolates with a cheaper, rapid but lower resolution technique called MALDI-TOF (Matrix Assisted Light Desorption Ionization- Time Of Flight). I will then compare the two results to see if additional resolution can be extracted from the MALDI-TOF. The project has potential relevance to the diagnostics of  microbiological and infectious disease. The ultimate goal is to apply this to the rapid identification of MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) outbreaks, a “superbug” much in the news today.

The problem: The biggest hurdle has been gaining access to the MALDI-TOF machine. I was meant to travel to Liverpool at the start of June to use the MALDI-TOF and collect data, but due to scheduling errors the first opportunity to use the machine is actually a week into July. Given that my project ends a week after this date, my advisor and I had to think of an alternative.

The new plan: In the lab there sits a blue orb-like machine. It was made by one of the PhD’s who created it using a 3D-printer. Essentially it shoots a laser beam onto a sample of isolates and records the pattern of light it reflects which gives information on sensitivity or resistance of an organism. It is typically used for tuberculosis but we will now try to use it for staph aureus. I will still travel to Liverpool at the later date to collect the MALDI-TOF data.

The other things: On Friday, I’ll travel to Kirkcaldy to shadow a diagnostic microbiologist to see the importance of rapid diagnostics first hand.  I’ve also seen the importance of leadership in the face of adversity. After hearing the news that the MALDI-TOF was unavailable, my advisor was immediately thinking of alternatives instead of giving up on the project. He encourages me to think as a scientist and develop my own leadership skills within the project. I feel lucky to be working with him and other bright minds in a research facility.

Good luck to all interns and happy researching!




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