Siouxsie Wiles

Dr Siouxsie Wiles is a research scientist with a background in medical and environmental microbiology. She has made a career out of combining her twin passions of bioluminescence (the production of light by living organisms — think glow worms and fireflies) and nasty microbes. In a nutshell, Siouxsie and her team make nasty bacteria glow in the dark to better understand infectious diseases. Originally from the UK, Siouxsie now leads the Bioluminescent Superbugs Lab at the University of Auckland. She was the 2013 winner of the Prime Minister's Science Media Communicator's Prize. Siouxsie is on Twitter @SiouxsieW

Open by design, not default. - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 14, 2019

I’m currently taking part in the Culture Track of the Mozilla Open Leaders programme, 14 weeks of mentoring and training by the Mozilla Foundation. I’m hoping to learn how to build an open culture for my lab and other projects I’m involved in. I’ve been interested in the concept of open science/research for a while now. If you haven’t heard of open science, it’s the movement to make more of our research practices, methods, and data accessible than just the stuff that eventually makes it into a scientific journal. That includes all our dead ends and failed experiments. I was so keen to give it a try that in 2013 I convinced my PhD student, now Dr, Hannah Read to document her experiments and data in real time in a sort of open lab book. As her … Read More

The Open Source Period project: my open leadership journey begins! - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 08, 2019

If you’ve not heard of Mozilla, you’ve likely heard of their web browser Firefox. The Mozilla Foundation is a global non-profit that wants to shape the future of the web for the public good. So, what’s Mozilla got to do with the Open Source Period project? For the last seven years, the Mozilla Foundation has run a programme called Open Leaders. Each year a cohort of people are chosen to go through 14 weeks of mentoring and training to “fuel the Internet Heath movement”. I came across the call for applicants for Round 7 of the programme on Twitter last year. I’d been looking around for a mentor to help guide me as I looked to start the Open Source Period project (more on that here). I was so excited to be accepted on to the … Read More

Open Source Period - Infectious Thoughts

Mar 07, 2019

For nearly a year, I’ve been raving about menstrual cups to anyone who would listen, trying to explain how they could disrupt the way many of us do scientific research. Sounds unlikely? Then read on! I had the idea for the Open Source Period project when a story about menstrual cups hit the news in April 2018. To cut a long story short, a new lab-based study was suggesting that menstrual cups users may be at a higher risk of getting the potentially fatal toxic shock syndrome than tampon users. If you are interested in the nitty gritty of what that study showed and what it might mean for menstrual cups users, I wrote about it here, here, and here. The story sent me on a hunt for any other studies that looked at the safety of … Read More

The science behind the Impossible Burger - Infectious Thoughts

Jul 05, 2018

Air New Zealand has just announced The Impossible Burger is now available to a minuscule number of their customers, a move described as an “existential threat” by New Zealand First’s Mark Patterson. So what is all the fuss is about? This week, Air New Zealand announced that Business Premier “foodies” on their Los Angeles to Auckland flights would be able to try out the “plant-based goodness” that is the Impossible Burger. Lamb + Beef New Zealand, which represents sheep and beef farmers, is clearly peeved that our national carrier wouldn’t rather showcase some great Kiwi “grass-fed, free range, GMO free, naturally raised” beef and lamb instead. Mark Patterson, New Zealand First’s spokesperson for Primary Industries even went as far as to put out a press release calling the announcement an “existential threat to New Zealand’s second-biggest export earner”. Meanwhile, vegetarians … Read More

Menstrual cups: let’s investigate! - Infectious Thoughts

Apr 29, 2018

After finding that there really have been bugger all studies done on menstrual cups and toxic shock, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles ponders whether crowdfunding and open science might be the solution. Last week a new lab-based study came out about menstrual cups and toxic shock syndrome, the very rare but potentially deadly result of infection with the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. I wrote about what I think the study means here, here and here. One thing that appalled me as I was reading around the topic is that it appears menstrual cups have hardly been studied at all. Or if they have, the findings haven’t been published. I counted 14 relevant studies on the journal article database Pubmed. There’s this new one, an older similar lab-based study, three case studies, and 9 reports of actual clinical trials. Read More

The recent ‘period in a bag’ study: what it can and can’t tell us about menstrual cups and toxic shock - Infectious Thoughts

Apr 29, 2018

Recently, a lab-based study was published about menstrual cups, tampons, and toxic shock syndrome. In this post, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles reflects on what the study can and can’t tell us about menstrual cups and toxic shock. If you need reminding, toxic shock syndrome is a very rare complication of a bacterial infection that can quickly result in organ failure and death. In a previous post (published here and here) I wrote about one of my take-home messages from the recent study (1): that bacteria may stick to menstrual cups as they are used over the course of a period, and if you just follow the advice of wiping or rinsing after each use, you could be putting a cup inside your vagina that’s becoming more and more covered in potentially harmful bacteria. My advice was to get … Read More

Menstrual cups and toxic shock revisited - Infectious Thoughts

Apr 29, 2018

Last week a new lab-based study came out, about menstrual cups, tampons, and toxic shock syndrome (1). In this post, microbiologist Siouxsie Wiles reflects on the various responses she’s had to her blog about the study.  If you need reminding, toxic shock syndrome is one of the bogey-men every menstruating teen is warned about – a very rare complication of a bacterial infection that can quickly result in organ failure and death. Journalists were soon calling me, asking what the study meant. They all wanted to know, are menstrual cups more dangerous than tampons? As usual, the answer was a little more complicated than a simple yes or no. As a microbiologist, one of the main conclusions I drew from the study was that people who use menstrual cups would be better off cleaning them more rigorously and more … Read More

Menstrual cups and toxic shock: no need for panic but rinsing is not enough! - Infectious Thoughts

Apr 25, 2018

A new study shows that menstrual cups and cotton tampons may not be as safe as people are being led to believe.   Diva, Fleur, JuJu, Kiko, Lunette, Me Luna, Mooncup, My Cup, Sckoon, Tāti, Wā, Yuuki. All cutesy names for the same thing: the menstrual cup – a ‘cup’ people insert into their vagina to collect blood during their period. Once the cup is full, it’s removed, emptied, given a rinse and popped back in. I have to admit that the very idea of a menstrual cup completely freaks me out. I blame the many hours I spent either sitting in microbiology lectures as an undergraduate or teaching students about nasty microbes as a university lecturer. Because I now know far too much about the (admittedly very rare but pretty deadly) bacterial disease toxic shock syndrome, as well as … Read More

It’s time for academics to stand up against bad science - Infectious Thoughts

Jan 12, 2018

Shocking revelations around a clinical trial of a new tuberculosis vaccine are just the tip of the iceberg. Maintaining public trust in science depends on open science. Ten years ago, Dr Ben Goldacre published Bad Science, a book described by The Economist as “a fine lesson in how to skewer the enemies of reason and the peddlers of cant and half-truths”. In his book, Goldacre slams the bull-shitters who misuse science, taking aim at detoxing and ‘brain gyms’, as well as ‘magical water’ homeopaths and pill-pushing fake PhD-holding nutritionists. Scientists like me shouted with glee. Goldacre followed that with Bad Pharma in 2012, subtitled ‘How medicine is broken, and how we can fix it’. The book revealed how the pharmaceutical industry manipulates drug trials, buries data it doesn’t like, and misleads … Read More

An open letter to the people of Whakatane (and the rest of Aotearoa New Zealand)* - Infectious Thoughts

Jul 02, 2017

As a parent, I know what it’s like to worry about whether you are doing the right thing for your child. When my daughter was born, I couldn’t quite believe that after just a few days in hospital we’d be going home in sole charge of a small infant. Didn’t they realise we were unqualified?! Aside from giving her a name she wouldn’t hate us for, one of the first decisions we had to make was whether we would get our precious two-day old baby vaccinated against TB, a nasty bacterial lung disease that was prevalent in the part of London where we lived. As it turns out, I’m a scientist, and TB is one of the diseases I study. But even though I knew what the TB bacterium does to the human body, and just how safe the vaccine … Read More