Professor José Penadés has been appointed as Director of the MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection (CMBI), commencing 1 July 2020.
Professor Penadés joins the MRC CMBI from the University of Glasgow, where he was formerly Professor of Microbiology.
Established in 2012, the MRC CMBI is a cross-faculty, multidisciplinary research Centre within Imperial which represents the largest grouping of scientists and clinicians in the UK working on bacterial infection biology. Its collective aim is to understand molecular mechanisms underlying bacterial infection and immunity and to translate this information into novel strategies for preventing and treating disease.
A lifelong fascination
Professor Penadés initially studied Veterinary Medicine at the Universidad de Zaragoza in his native Spain before completing a PhD focussed on Goodpasture syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease. During this time, he had also started to study Staphylococcus infection and decided to pursue his interest in bacteriology following his PhD.
“During my degree, I was fascinated by viruses,” he explains. “They are so simple in some ways, yet so cleverly evolved. Working with them in the lab often feels like playing chess with someone much smarter than you!”
Based at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation since 2015, Professor Penadés’ work has centred on bacteriophages (also referred to as phages), which are highly-specialised viruses that infect and replicate within bacteria. Since the early 20th century, scientists have developed therapies for different kinds of bacterial infection by harnessing phages’ ability to highjack the cellular machinery of bacteria. Today, researchers at Imperial are investigating several different applications for phage therapy, including how it could be used to tackle the global public health threat of antimicrobial resistance.
New insights into bacterial evolution
Notably, in 2018, Professor Penadés led research which identified a new means by which bacteriophages move genetic information between bacterial cells, a process called lateral transduction. Previously, only two types of transduction had been thought to occur: generalised and specialised. However, the newly-discovered, lateral mode demonstrates how some bacteriophages use a far more mobile and dynamic method to move DNA between bacteria, shedding new light on the forces driving both bacterial and phage evolution.
Additionally, Professor Penadés identified a new family of highly evolved molecular parasites referred to as PICIs (Phage-Inducible Chromosomal Islands). These satellite viruses exploit certain types of phages when they infect bacteria, interacting and interfering with the phage’s cellular machinery and manipulating their life cycle. This, in turn, has a significant impact on driving bacterial and viral evolution.
On joining Imperial, Professor Penadés commented: “The MRC CMBI is one of the best centres in the world for bacteriology, and Imperial is an amazing institution. I am excited to see how we can evolve the CMBI even further and take it beyond its already strong position as a leading research centre.”
“While I’m keen to continue building on my research, in my role as Director, I see myself as a servant to the people who make up the CMBI and the College. I’m especially interested in helping the next generation of scientists – those who are just starting their research career.”
“I would also like to thank the former CMBI directors Professor David Holden and Professor Alain Filloux, as well as all the CMBI community, for everything they’ve done to make the CMBI what it is today. I will endeavour to build on their hard work and success to move the centre forwards.”
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