Awardee Laura Glendinning shares her passion for the avian gut microbiota

11-08-22 Carianne Buurmeijer

FEMS and ASM support the reciprocal exchange of one member from each organization to present his/her research at the other organization’s main conference via a joint Award. This year, ASM selected Laura Glendinning, PhD, Core Scientist (Research Fellow) in Genetics and Genomics at the University of Edinburgh, United Kingdom and member of the Microbiology Society, to receive the Award and attend ASM Microbe 2022.

portrait of Laura Glendinning
Laura Glendinning, PhD

Dr Glendinning presented her poster on ‘High Functional and Taxonomic Diversity Amongst 9,977 Metagenome Assembled Genomes from Indigenous Ethiopian Chickens’ at ASM Microbe 2022. We interviewed her after the congress, and found out more about her passion for the avian gut microbiota.

Could you describe your science journey in getting to where you are today?

My love for microbiology started because of my wonderful secondary school biology teacher Mr. Moody. He inspired me to do my BSc in medical microbiology at the University of Leeds, where I realised I was more interested in studying communities of microbes rather than individual species. I then went on to do a masters at the University of Edinburgh, looking at the relationship between schistosomiasis infection and the gut microbiota. I stayed at the same university for my PhD, but moved over to the Roslin Institute where I studied the sheep lung microbiota. I still work at Roslin, but now as a postdoc in Prof Mick Watson’s lab. I study the microbial communities that live in a range of animal species, but my particular passion is the avian gut microbiota.

What is your favourite microbe, and why?

I do quite a bit of public engagement, so I like anything that makes people go “Ooooh!” when they see it down a microscope. Volvox in particular are very good at that, they’re just so beautiful.

What are your personal aspirations?

I want to start my own research group focused on understanding the relationships between animal hosts, their microbiota and the environment. Because this is such a complex area I’d like my group to be very interdisciplinary, with people from a wide range of backgrounds.

Through the award, you attended ASM Microbe. How did that impact your career?.

ASM Microbe 2022 was the first time I’d attended a conference in the USA, and it was great to get to meet lots of researchers from across the pond. I had some fascinating conversations that really inspired me about where I want to take my own research in the future, and made some valuable new contacts in the avian microbiology area.

Find out more about FEMS Awards

What was the research you presented at ASM Microbe 2022 about?

I presented my work looking at the gut microbiota of village chickens in Ethiopia. Chickens raised on smallholder farms play essential roles in sub-Saharan Africa, providing vital nutritional and economic benefits. However, we know very little about their microbiota. In this study, we took samples from 240 Ethiopian chickens and sequenced their gut microbiota. We identified over one thousand novel microbial species, and found that the composition of the microbiota was significantly related to the altitude at which the chickens were living.

What research are you currently working on?

My current project is examining the gut microbiota of gene-edited chickens using both short and long read sequencing, in order to test whether knocking out an important chemokine receptor on dendritic cells leads to changes in gut homeostasis and thereby to changes in the gut microbial communities.

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