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Interview: ‘Bacteria fascinate me: they are tiny but have enormous impact’

This is an interview with a PhD student of the Complex Systems & Metagenomics projects in a series of background articles. Keep following this website for the next interview in this series.


Interview with Kitty Exel, PhD student of the project ‘Broadly protective glycoconjugate vaccines targeting major animal and zoonotic gram-positive pathogens’ at Utrecht University.

“Many studies focus on health and disease from a human, animal or environmental perspective. During my studies I realised it is important to adopt an integrated approach. This is why I am excited to study the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus, which infects both cattle and humans. While I am studying the cattle perspective, some of my collaborators are tackling the human aspect.

The bacterium S. aureus causes mastitis: inflammation of the udder. On farms, the bacteria spread from cow to cow by physical contact. I am investigating whether new infections are caused by contagious spreading of the bacteria, or whether cows pick up new strains from the environment. If so, it is likely that several S. aureus strains are present within a population. I will analyse the strains in the milk and on the skin of cows. Because of the coronavirus crisis I have no results yet, but hope to continue the research soon.

During the next step, I will try to find proof of concept that sugars on the bacterial cell wall can be used for the development of a S. aureus vaccine. This has been successfully applied in other vaccines. My collaborators and I hope to find sugars present on all S. aureus strains to create a universal vaccine for cattle and humans.”

PhD project: CANVAS – Broadly protective glycoconjugate vaccines targeting major animal and zoonotic Gram-positive pathogens.