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 Alex Mullins

Alex Mullins

Research Associate

School of Biosciences

Email
mullinsa@cardiff.ac.uk
Campuses
Sir Martin Evans Building, Museum Avenue, Cardiff, CF10 3AX

Overview

Background

I graduated from Cardiff University with a first class BSc (Hons) in Microbiology that included one year in industry working on home and personal care product preservative systems at Unilever. After my bachelor's degree I started my postgraduate studies as a PhD student at the Microbiomes, Microbes and Informatics (MMI) group at Cardiff University. During my PhD I focussed on understanding the natural product biosynthetic capacity of Burkholderia bacteria, and their use as biopesticides in agriculture. Following my PhD studies I started a postdoctoral position at MMI.

Current research

As a postdoctoral researcher at MMI my research focusses on the use of Burkholderia bacteria as biopesticides, addressing the efficacy, safety and persistence of these bacteria in this agricultural application. More broadly, I am interested in the phylogenomics of Burkholderia and related genera, using genomics to better understand the taxonomy and diversity of these bacteria. I combine this insight into the genomic diversity of Burkholderia bacteria to characterise their capacity to produce natural products for drug discovery where we collaborate with natural product chemists to understand the functions and biosynthesis of these compounds.

Biography

Publications

2021

2020

2019

2018

My research is divided into threemain areas: biopesticides, bacterial genomics, and natural product discovery:

Biopesticides

The bacterium Burkholderia ambifaria has been used historically as a commercial biopesticide but was phased out due to concerns over the opportunistic pathogenicity of members of the genus Burkholderia in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. However, with the updated sequencing and genomics tools developed over the last decade we can accurately identify Burkholderia species and those most commonly isolated from CF patients.

Greater knowledge of Burkholderia prevalence in CF and increasing evidence of the antimicrobial specialised metabolite capacity of Burkholderia species has led to a resurgence in interest for Burkholderia use as a biopesticide. I am investigating the efficacy of different Burkholderia species and strains as biopesticides, the persistence of these bacteria in the soil following application, and their ability to cause disease.

Bacterial genomics

The genus Burkholderia has undergone multiple expansion and splitting events since it was defined in 1993 following a split from Pseudomonas. Currently, there are six "sister" genera alongside Burkholderia sensu stricto that form the broader grouping Burkholderia sensu lato. Accurate identification of strains using genomics tools is essential to understanding the populaton biology of a strain and how it relates to other strains and species in a wider context. I use public genome databases alongside genomes sequenced at MMI from our own strain collection to interpret evolutionary relationships of these bacteria.

Natural product discovery

Large genomic datasets enable us to perform genome mining analyses at the species and genus level to understand the distribution of biosynthetic gene clusters (BGCs) responcible for natural products biosynthesis. Such analyses have led to the discovery and characterisation of multiple specialised metabolites in Burkholderia and other genera such as Pseudomonas.