I am originally from the U.K. and was raised in the town of Burton-on-Trent, famous for its long history of brewing. Both my father and grandfather worked in the towns brewing industry and so it somehow seems appropriate that one of my major research model organisms is the Brewer's yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
After leaving school I pursued a degree in Microbiology/Virology at The University of Warwick (U.K.), where I was introduced to the fascinating aspects of how viruses cause disease and fell in love with laboratory science.. After working in the food safety industry, I began a PhD studying the biology of bacterial viruses, specifically how they use molecular machines called recombinases to insert their DNA into their host bacteria (The University of Aberdeen, U.K.). During my PhD I was mentored by Prof. Maggie Smith (currently at The University of York, U.K.) who was extremely supportive and allowed me the freedom to pursue my scientific ideas freely within the laboratory; a philosophy that I maintain in my laboratory today. As a side note, I drew a picture of my interpretation of phiC31 integrase in the third year of my PhD (2007):
This prediction was validated in 2013 by superb work published in Nucleic Acids Research by the van Duyne group:
Don't you just love it when science actually cares about your hypothesis?
Anyway, after 4 years getting through my PhD I finally published my thesis and a couple of first author papers (publications here). I was then offered a postdoctoral position in the USA at The University of Texas at Austin (ever heard of SXSW or Franklin BBQ?) under the mentorship of Prof. Makkuni Jayaram. In the Jayaram laboratory I continued working on recombinases, but I also began to study the physiology of a parasitic DNA element called the 2-micron plasmid, which lives in the nucleus of S. cerevisiae. This short position was extremely productive and I produced a number of papers from 2-years of blood, sweat and tears. It was during this time that I began to understand that lurking within my pint of beer or my loaf of bread there are numerous viruses and molecular parasites that infect S. cerevisiae. Importantly, some of these parasites have a resemblance to human viruses like HIV and other viruses that cause disease.
I then joined the laboratory of Prof. Sara Sawyer (currently at The University of Colorado, Boulder) who's laboratory has the primary focus of understanding how viruses "do battle" with their hosts over evolutionary time. Sara's interest in the viruses of Saccharomyces yeasts allowed me the time and resources to lay the foundations of many of the projects that I am working on today. Specifically, I began to knit ideas together on how conserved host cellular processes can be exploited by viruses of humans and yeasts. After helping the Sawyer laboratory move from Texas to Colorado, I was offered a job at The University of Idaho, Moscow, as an Assistant Professor in The Department of Biological Sciences. I was overjoyed and I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to start my own research program looking at how viruses and parasites interact with their host organism.
Looking forward, I am building a research team that will help drive forward some of my exciting research projects centered on studying HIV, primate lentiviruses, yeast totiviruses, 2-micron plasmid, retrotransposons, yeast anti-fungal toxin production, the nuclear pore complex and RNA metabolism. Please see the "about the lab" tab for more details on some of these projects.