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An insight into bacteriophages and the NCTC bacteriophage collection

Meg Cooper (21) is an example of a young woman forging a scientific career for herself. Meg’s first experience of working with UKHSA Culture Collections was from a week's work experience at ECACC whilst studying for her A Levels at Queen Elizabeth’s School in Wimborne, Dorset in the UK. Now in her third year of an MSci Natural Science degree at University of Exeter, Meg is about to embark on a project to investigate traveling bacteriophage infections of swimming host bacter


We asked Meg: “What exactly are Bacteriophages?”

“Bacteriophages are highly abundant organisms which infect and subsequently replicate within bacteria cells, which serve as their hosts. As phages are non-motile, they rely on Brownian motion (diffusion) and bacterial ‘hitchhiking’ to move. Phages are well-known as being successful vectors for horizontal gene transfer, where they are capable of transferring viral genes to various bacterial strains, through a process known as transduction and are also key players in the human microbiome. In order to take over host cells, phages perform lysis during which the genome of the phage is introduced into the bacterial cytoplasm and the host’s resources are utilised to the phage’s advantage, resulting in the infection of other bacterial cells upon lysis. Phages have possible applications in the fight against antibiotic resistance and also have potential in other aspects of medicine, for example as biomarkers and so getting a better understanding of phage behaviour is a key current window of scientific interest.

My project will focus on the relationship between phages when introduced simultaneously to the same culture of motile bacteria. I aim to determine whether the phages will work antagonistically and compete for the host cells or whether they are able to form a kind of stable equilibrium during bacterial lysis.

If I take my work further, I’d like to explore the potential of the NCTC bacteriophage collection."


The NCTC bacteriophage collection consists of over 100 bacteriophages and their corresponding bacterial hosts. Originally deposited for their value in bacterial typing, the collection consists of bacteriophages specific to: Streptococcus agalactiae, Staphylococcus aureus, Escherichia coli and Campylobacter.

The collection is currently being characterised under the leadership of Hannah McGregor, the NCTC Operations Lead, using a range of methods such as electron microscopy and genomic sequencing. Once characterised and re-banked, the collection will be made available to support worldwide scientific research. The NCTC bacteriophage collection will be dynamic, representing a repository into which microbiologists can deposit phages to support accessibility and reproducibility in science. 


December 2023