Heidi Falvey

Institute of Integrative Biology University of Liverpool

Supervisors: Dr Daimark Bennett, Dr Mal Horsburgh, Professor Rasmita Raval, Dr Gary Borisy, Mr Michael Hoptroff and Dr Gordon James

I have had a fascination in microbiology ever since I learnt about the human microbiome and its role in human health and disease. I attended the University of Westminster to complete my undergraduate degree in Microbiology, during which time, I was fortunate to receive funding to undertake summer research projects in my second and third years. The first of these, funded by a summer scholarship from the British Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, focused on isolating bacteriophages; the second, funded by University of Westminster, focused on molecular biology techniques needed for chimeric mutagenesis of viral glycoproteins. These experiences reinforced my ambition to go into research. 

I was subsequently able to complete a Master’s degree at the University of Manchester studying Medical Microbiology. In Manchester, I delved further into the topic of the microbiome and became fascinated with host-microbe interactions. These interactions are complex and can either promote or damage host health. In my master’s research project, I was introduced to advanced imaging techniques which allowed me to collect time-lapse image data of microbial-host interactions.

I chose to conduct my PhD project because it intertwines all my interests, from integrating science, microbiome research and use of advanced imaging techniques.    

Project Title: Advanced spatial and species level imaging of the human microbe

This PhD project aims to better understand the structure of microbial communities found on human skin. The rationale for understanding a microbiome’s spatial structure is the ability to understand how and why dysbiosis can occur in these communities Currently, our understanding of dysbiosis comes largely from sequencing data, which only shows what proportional shifts in species abundance has occurred. Spatial structure can also give insight into how these microbial communities are maintained, including clues into functional interplay between specific species.

In my PhD project I will employ an advanced imaging method pioneered by Borisy et al., (2016), called Combinatorial labelling and spectral imaging- fluorescence in-situ hybridisation (CLASI-FISH), to image the skin microbiome. The skin microbiome is highly variable between sites, so chosen sites for this research are “oasises” that have higher microbial abundance then other sites. The chosen sites include the axilla, scalp and foot. Understanding the skin microbiota spatial structure is important as allows us to learn more about dermatological dysbiosis and application of effective treatments. This project involves funding and collaboration from Unilever. This collaboration gives me the opportunity to apply CLASI-FISH to image in vitro skin microbiome models as well as benefit from Unilever’s in-house expertise in research of the skin microbiome.

Other activities

I attended a Unilever Workshop (3-4th July 2019) where I was able to meet all current PhD students that were collaborating with Unilever in BBSRC DTP programmes.This workshop included attending presentations on technology used in the MIF (Material Innovation Factory) building in Liverpool, 3/4th year PhD projects, and motivation in research. We were able to share progress made in our projects via poster presentations and able to network with other students.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website.