LIFE SOLVED EP69 600x600

22 min listen

When you think of bacteria, you probably think of germs, illness and disease. But in the latest episode of the Life Solved podcast, Christina Scott is on a mission to change your mind.

In more recent decades we’ve come to understand how ‘good’ bacteria can enhance bodily processes such as in gut flora. But coming from an environmental sciences background, Christina is interested in finding out how certain types of bacteria can make a difference in our ecosystems too, particularly watery ones.

We know of millions of different types of bacteria, but less than 5% of those are what we would traditionally call bad bacteria. But even some of the pathogens that we are aware of, we also know that they do good as well.
Christina Scott, Research Fellow, University of Portsmouth School of Biological Sciences

Christina’s research interests evolved when she was working in water testing after her degree. Surveying bathing water and other public systems for an absence of pathogenic bacteria, Christina realised that lab work lit her up. That’s what brought her back to The University of Portsmouth. 

She has now managed to compile quite a collection of seawater samples from around the Solent, which sit in bottles around the lab with what Christina hopes will be exciting secrets to reveal. She’s carrying out the enormously tricky work of culturing legionella strains to try and investigate their function in our seaside environments and water systems.

And if any bacteria has a tricky PR job on its hands, Legionella is one of them, being the pathogen behind Legionnaires’ Disease; the deadly respiratory illness identified in the 1970s and transmitted through water droplets in things like air conditioning and hot tubs.

But there doesn’t seem to be any evolutionary benefit to Legionella causing this disease, which sees an end to its life cycle. Instead, Christina wants to know what’s happening in the environments where its circular life cycle is able to continue. She says that our focus on the negative side of this bacteria in water systems have caused us to overlook positive functions, and she hopes to find out what they are.

Our flushing water systems mean that we can avoid the stagnant water systems Legionella love, but that this bacteria can be moved into other environments. Christina says there’s no need to be alarmed that we’re starting to discover this bacterium in our sea waters. 

However, she is keen to challenge our cultural and historical associations between bacteria and illness so that we can develop a deeper understanding of the balance and function of all these microbes in different environments.

You can find out more about research at the University of Portsmouth on our website.

You can listen to the full podcast from Tuesday 7 June.

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