Day in the life: Luke Anson on extracting bacterial DNA from samples

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My name is Luke Anson and I’m a research assistant in the Modernising Medical Microbiology consortium. My job is constantly changing but right now I’m working on new ways to find out how to diagnose and treat blood infections. We’re trying a totally new technique, which involves getting the DNA out of the bacteria that are infecting the blood of patients in the John Radcliffe hospital here in Oxford (Bacteria have DNA, just like humans). This can be really hard work as I have to deal with chemicals that cause problems; Human DNA from the blood cells can also get mixed up with everything.
If it’s so hard then you may be wondering why I am trying to do this. Well, in our labs we can analyse the bacterial DNA using computers. With the aid of some clever software we can predict the type of organism that is infecting the patient’s bloodstream as well as the correct antibiotics to use to treat the patient – all from the bacterial DNA data. This is the same information that doctors currently use to work out the best way to treat a patient with a bloodstream infection.
As our techniques improve and computers continue to become more powerful we anticipate that we will be able to make our predictions faster and more cheaply than the methods currently employed in the NHS. We therefore hope that one day soon our system will be used in hospitals throughout the country aiding doctors in their treatment of patients.
An additional benefit to DNA sequencing is that even after patient’s infections have been treated the genetic data from the bacteria can be used by researchers to investigate the ways in which germs develop resistance to antibiotics.
None of this will happen if we do not have good quality DNA going into the system so for now I’m going back to the lab!

-Luke Anson, Lab Scientist

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