Stuart McEwen

Institute of Integrative Biology Biosciences Building University of Liverpool Crown Street Liverpool L69 7ZB


Dr Heather Allison and Professor Alan McCarthy

I was awarded an MRes (with Merit) in Post-Genomic Biology in 2012 following completion of a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry in 2011, both from the University of York.

My undergraduate degree focused on molecular interactions and I was left with an interest in linking structural biology with biochemical and biophysical data, particularly with regard to protein interactions with various biomolecules. I was able to take this further with my MRes when looking to complement the function of transporter knock-outs with homologues from a range of other species and start the ground work for a protein-protein interaction screen using the bacterial one-hybrid system.

My PhD involves characterisation of the interaction of a bacteriophage (phage) tail and the surface receptor it adsorbs to, BamA. BamA is not only an outer membrane protein, which are difficult to study biochemically, it is also an essential protein which further confounds its study as any loss of function is detrimental to cell viability. This exciting challenge has required the exploration of alternative methods to study structural and biochemical properties of this interaction.

Project title: Characterisation of Stx-phage adsorption: the essential outer membrane protein, BamA

Shiga toxigenic E. coli (STEC) cause several outbreaks per year resulting in potentially life-threatening cases of HUS and TPP. Shiga toxin (Stx) genes are horizontally transferred to susceptible hosts by bacteriophages (phages), which increase the host's pathogenic profile. Phages can also infect members of the gut microbiota during STEC infections, which is thought to increase the severity of the resulting disease.

An unexpectedly common infection strategy used by 70% of Stx-phages involves adsorbing to the host cell via BamA, an essential outer-membrane protein. BamA is highly conserved across Enterobacteriaceae and this infection strategy has likely used BamA as the fundamental constant that has driven the dissemination of Stx and the emergence of high-profile STEC, e.g. O104 and O157.

This essentiality makes BamA problematic to modify but by fusing the membrane associated domain from the BamAorthologue of Pectobacterium carotovorum, a chimera was generated that maintained BamA function whilst eliminating susceptibility to Stx-phage infection in E. coli. The BamA epitopes supporting Stx phage adsorption in E. coli were identified using a series of natural and synthetic BamA mutants. It's hoped this information will help us understand how Stx-phages recognise potential hosts. This knowledge might also improve our ability to limit Stx-phage infections for improved clinical outcomes.

Additional Activities

I am involved in various public engagement and outreach event, including: “Walk on the Wild Side” at World Museum (Liverpool) where families can dissect owl pellets to find out what they have been eating; “Hands on DNA” which is an afternoon for 14-17 year olds to learn about chemical properties of DNA; and, “Bonkers Bugs” which gives 5-11 year olds an opportunity to perform basic microbiological techniques, such as find out what is living on their hands and discover why sneezes spread diseases.

I have attended conferences in my field, including: Europhages 2012 (Oxford), NEPG 2012 (Newcastle), SGM Autumn 2013 (Sussex) NEPG 2013 (Newcastle)

I am currently the Director of Finance for the University of Liverpool Postgraduate Society and also help to organise social and academic events for all five bioscience institutions at the University of Liverpool.

On a team of three people entering the Biotechnology YES competition in 2013.

Where did I get my PIPs

PIPS Internship Organisation Name 



Foundry Lane, Widnes, Cheshire WA8 8UB

When deciding on your internship, what did you want to experience and what did you hope to gain from that experience? 

Wanted to re-experience industry with minimal life-hassle. I hoped to complete the PIPS requirement of the PhD.

Additional comments

Croda was a fantastic place to spend 3 months. I would recommend it to anyone though I found having a little background in chemistry very helpful to immediately appreciate some methods and the risks involved with working in a chemistry lab.

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