Hall Fungal Research

Rebecca Hall

Rebecca joined the University of Kent in April 2020 as a lecturer in Microbial Adaptation. Rebecca is an alumnus of the University of Kent having completed her PhD under the supervision of Dr Peter Klappa and Prof Fritz Muhlschlegel in 2007, which investigated how the nematode C. elegans adapts to environmental pH. Rebecca then remained at the University for a postdoctoral position, focusing on how the fungal pathogen Candida albicans adapts to carbon dioxide, a key environmental signal that triggers fungal pathogenesis. Rebecca then moved the University of Aberdeen, to work with Prof Neil Gow on fungal cell wall biosynthesis and innate immunity to fungal infections, before joining the University of Birmingham in 2014 as an independent research fellow funded by a Medical Research Council Career Development Award. Rebecca’s team now forms part of the Kent Fungal Group (KFG) and is focused on understanding how pathogenic fungi (Candida, Cryptococcus and Rhizopus) adapt to life within the human host and how, in turn, this adaptation affects the host-pathogen interaction.     

Research focus

Hall Fungal Research is focused on understanding how fungi interact and adapt to their environment, and the consequences these modifications have on disease progression. This includes, but is not limited to, understanding how fungi adapt to specific environmental signals (i.e. CO2, pH, temperature), but also how fungi interact with other opportunistic pathogens and members of the microbiome. Examples of some of the projects ongoing in the lab are outlined below:

Environmental Sensing

For a microbe to survive in a host and cause infection, it must have the ability to adapt to the conditions of its chosen niche. These conditions not only include host-derived environments like mucus, but also include environmental parameters imposed on the fungus by microbial growth. We are currently using Next Generation Sequencing, Molecular Biology and genetic approaches to determine how fungal pathogens adapt to the diverse environments they experience during colonization and infection of the human host, and how the host environment drives fungal virulence.

Host-pathogen Interactions

Fungi are surrounded by a sugary shell, known as the fungal cell wall. As the cell wall forms the exterior of the fungus it is the first point of contact between the pathogen and cells of the host’s innate immune system. The carbohydrate structures that comprise the cell wall are recognised by receptors on the surface of phagocytes. We believe that during adaptation to the host environment the fungus modifies the structure and composition of its cell wall, which will impact on how the immune system sees the invading pathogen. Therefore, the host environment may have a direct role(s) in regulating host-pathogen interactions.

Polymicrobial interactions

Microbes interact with each other in a variety of ways and the type of interaction largely depends on the environment. These interactions, can be direct cell-to-cell interactions, the secretion of signaling molecules, direct competition for nutrients, and the production of toxins. These interactions may be beneficial or detrimental to one or both players. We are interested in identifying the mechanisms of these interactions, the evolution of fungal-bacterial interactions and the role these polymicrobial interactions have on disease outcome.

Antimicrobial resistance

Many hospital acquired infections are associate with implanted medical devices. Fungi and bacteria are able to grow on these medical devices and form complex communities known as biofilms. These complex communities are often polymicrobial, being formed from multiple fungi and bacteria, and are extremely resistant to antimicrobial treatment. We are interested in identifying how the presence in fungi in these biofilms impacts the antimicrobial susceptibility of its fellow constituents, and the impact this has on the treatment of hospital acquired infections. 

Team members

The Team

Ebrima Bojang

(University of Birmingham)

1st year Wellcome trust funded PhD student investigating  phagosome induced cell wall remodelling.

Harlene Ghuman

(University of Birmingham)

3rd year MRC-IMPACT funded PhD student investigating  Mucor host-pathogen interactions.

Farhana Alam

(University of Birmingham)

3rd year Wellcome trust funded PhD student investigating the role of dual species biofilms in antimicrobial resistance.

Pizga Kumwenda

(University of Birmingham)

3rd year Wellcome trust funded PhD student investigating the role of hormones in regulating the fungal host-pathogen interaction.

Alumni

Dr Fabien Cottier

Senior Postdoc

Dr Courtney Kousser

PhD student

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