I graduated with a B.Sc. (1st class) from University College Galway, Ireland, and undertook PhD studies with Prof Peter Andrew at the University of Leicester. My PhD work was exploring the molecular genetics of the mycobacteria, a group of bacteria that includes the causative agent of Tuberculosis (TB). Leicester was at the forefront of new approaches in molecular microbiology and this was an exciting time to start working on TB, with a renewed international focus on basic TB research.
After completing my PhD in 1995 I did postdoctoral work with Prof Stewart Cole at the Institute Pasteur, Paris on the genomics of Mycobacterium tuberculosis and related mycobacteria. As part of this work I uncovered molecular differences between the mycobacteria that cause TB in humans vs animals, a finding that sparked my interest in understanding the molecular basis of host preference across closely related bacterial pathogens.
In 1999 I returned to the UK as a team leader in the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (now the Animal and Plant Health Agency) to work on the genomics of the animal TB pathogen, Mycobacterium bovis. This focused my attention on translating the findings of basic research into new control tools, such as improved diagnostics. I eventually returned to Ireland in 2008 to take my current position at in University College Dublin, where we use a ‘One Health’ approach to human and animal TB as a route to defining the molecular basis of virulence in these pathogens.