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

When science really doesn’t mean science. - Infectious Thoughts

Dec 15, 2010

I recently popped into the vast Borders bookshop on Queen Street to get myself a copy of Trick or Treatment by Edzard Ernst and Simon Singh. I borrowed it from a friend a few months ago and have been meaning to buy it ever since. I first located the ‘Science’ section and learnt three things: 1. It’s located far down in the basement of the shop. 2. It’s tiny. Seriously tiny. I conclude from this that Borders thinks Kiwi’s aren’t interested in buying books about science. 3. They seem to think predicting the weather using the cycles of the moon is a science. Not only that, but perhaps of the utmost importance as a certain person’s almanac was given an entire shelf. I was so flabbergasted I had to take a photo.* Naturally I marched straight up … Read More

Melancholic - Infectious Thoughts

Nov 22, 2010

I’m feeling a little melancholic today. Last night I saw an obituary on the Guardian website for Dr Judit Nagy, a former colleague from my time at Imperial College London. She was the director of the proteomics facility, an excellent scientist and genuinely nice person. In an environment like Imperial it was always nice to have role models who were doing well scientifically while juggling families (she had four children). They were few and far between. She died in a car accident. What is really sad is that Judit probably won’t be remembered for her scientific achievements. Instead, she goes down in history as the first person to be killed in an accident involving an electric car (she was driving a G-Wiz which was split in half in the accident). Pondering over this tragedy, I read … Read More

Tinkerbell and the great propaganda machine - Infectious Thoughts

Nov 17, 2010

I recently took my 4 year old daughter to see Disney’s Tinkerbell and the Great Fairy Rescue at the cinema. It was just after the NZ Skeptics annual conference which due to a lack of alternative arrangements she had been forced to attend (to be fair she had spent most of it sat at the back watching movies on a portable DVD player…). Anyway, as she had been so good I thought she deserved a treat. So back to the movie. For those who may not have had the pleasure, it centres around a little girl who believes in fairies. She manages to befriend one (Tinkerbell) who explains to her how fairies are responsible for pretty much everything around us: they paint the wings of butterflies, pollinate all the flowers and are even responsible for the seasons. In … Read More

More to Pseudomonads than the kiwifruit crisis…. - Infectious Thoughts

Nov 14, 2010

For anyone who has missed the news this past week, the NZ kiwifruit industry is potentially in big trouble with a growing number of orchards infected with Pseudomonas syringae pathovar* (pv) actinidiae (PSA). PSA causes kiwifruit canker**. The halo they produce on infected leaves is caused by a toxin whose production seems to be regulated by temperature. I have to confess to having a bit of a love-hate relationship with the genus Pseudomonas. I spent many long hours in their company during my PhD studies. On the other hand, many of them are also naturally fluorescent***. Which is why I thought I’d tell you a little more about some members of this amazing group of microbes. There are over 100 species in the genus Pseudomonas and they are ubiquitous in the environment. You will find them in soil, water, hospitals… … Read More

The great publication fiasco - Infectious Thoughts

Nov 13, 2010

It was with great sadness that I recently read that the University of California (UC) and Nature Publishing Group (NPG) had come to an agreement to stop UC from boycotting NPG. For those who aren’t familiar with this story, it goes something like this. In June of this year a letter was circulated from the UC library to faculty explaining that NPG was insisting on increasing the price of UC’s license for Nature and other  NPG journals by 400 percent beginning in 2011, which would raise the cost for their 67 journals by well over 1 million USD (currently about 1.3 million NZD) per year. The letter called for faculty to prepare for the subscription to NPG journals to be suspended and for staff to boycott NPG by declining to peer review manuscripts for NPG journals, resigning from NPG … Read More

An introduction - Infectious Thoughts

Nov 09, 2010

I thought I would use my first post to introduce myself and explain the reason(s) for infectious thoughts. I am a research scientist with a background in medical and environmental microbiology. I’ll come back to what I do and what I’m interested in a bit later. As well as microorganisms, I am also obsessed with bioluminescence (the production of light by living organisms – think glow worms and fireflies).  I feel immensely privileged to have made a career out of combining these two passions, as in a nutshell, I make bacteria glow in the dark for a living. After many years working in the UK, I was recently awarded a Hercus Fellowship from the Health Research Council (HRC) of New Zealand and relocated to the University of Auckland (UoA). It goes without saying that the views I will be … Read More

Why I have a platinum wedding ring - Infectious Thoughts

Nov 09, 2010

It’s not because I specifically wanted one. I have a nickel allergy that makes me sensitive to pretty much everything else. Apparently an estimated 65 million other Europeans are also sensitive to nickel. A recent paper* in Nature Immunology has found the culprit: Toll-like receptor (TLR) 4. The TLR family of proteins play an important role in microbial recognition and activation of the innate immune response. TLR4 responds to lipopolysaccharide (LPS), a major component of the outer membrane of Gram-negative bacteria. The interaction between TLR4 and LPS triggers the production of chemicals that produce inflammation.  Interestingly, the authors found that nickel can bind directly to human (but not mouse) TLR4, in an area distinct from the LPS-binding region, also triggering inflammation. While it’s good to know how nickel sensitivity happens, this paper doesn’t explain why it … Read More