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News : Microbial Genomics Spotlight On: Microbial Evolution and Epidemiology

15 November 2016

Each month Microbial Genomics interviews one of its Senior Editors to find out which topics they are on the look-out for in each of their subject categories. This month we chat to Dr Jenn Gardy to discuss the hot topics in ‘Microbial Evolution and Epidemiology’, to find out what papers she’d like to see more of in this category and discover who inspired her to go into scientific research.

1. What is currently a hot topic in your area of research?
I’m interested in using microbial genomic data to make inferences about disease transmission in outbreak scenarios – figuring out who infected whom, essentially. Genomics as a tool for outbreak investigation isn’t especially new – we’ve been doing it for about six or seven years now in the bacterial space – but developing the models and methods to handle the inferring of actual transmission events, even in the absence of epidemiological data, is really a hot area that’s just now emerging. There have been some basic frameworks established, but now people are moving towards more complex inference, accounting for things like noisy or incomplete data.

2. Describe your subject category in one sentence
Microbial evolution & epidemiology is all about understanding how mutations and evolutionary changes not only affect microbes at levels from organism up to population, but it’s also about how we can harness that data to understand microbial diseases and their changing epidemiology.

3. Who has inspired you in your research?
If I go right back to the beginning of things, my first inspiration was Dustin Hoffman in Outbreak – it’s a terrible film, but it really did set me on a course of wanting to study infectious diseases and their spread. During my training, Fiona Brinkman really demonstrated the power of using microbial genomics and bioinformatic approaches to answer questions about pathogens, and I’ve always admired my fellow Microbial Genomics Editor Nick Loman for doing things that are wildly creative and innovative.

4. What would you like to see MGen publishing more of?
I think there’s definitely a role for us as a place for outbreak investigations that have used genomics – from a small trickle of papers in this area a few years ago, I think we’re now at a steady stream that is poised to become a deluge. I’d also like to see us as a place where researchers go to publish not just a finding, but also the data and the process that led to that finding. As an open access and open data journal, we’re very well positioned to be the home for reproducible, robust research.

5. What would you be if not a scientist?
If I had followed the advice of the 10th grade career counseling software that asked you a bunch of questions and spat out a list of ideal jobs, I’d be an art conservator, but if I quit science today and did something else, it would be helping my husband run his craft distillery. Which is still science, I suppose. Just boozier.

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