Fellow Profile: Dr Tim Blower

This is one of a series of posts discussing our 2019 crop of Lister Fellows. Each of the new Fellows were officially awarded their prestigious Lister Institute research prize at our Annual Event at the University of Oxford in November 2019. In this post we meet Dr Tim Blower of Durham University.

Dr Tim Blower is a researcher working at Durham University whose research involves the study of toxin-antitoxin systems and bacterial bacteriophage-resistance mechanisms, including BacteRiophage EXclusion (BREX).BREX is a form of bacteriophage (phage) resistance system that was first identified in 2015. Dr Blower’s research activity aims to gain a greater understanding of how BREX functions in order for his team, and the research community, to better assess its potential as a biomedical tool that could be used in the development of a range of therapies.

This involves gaining a better understanding of the interactions between phages and their hosts and any possible problems associated with this approach, such as therapy failure due to phage-resistance mechanisms like BREX.

An improved understanding of the various interactions between phages and their hosts has implications for the use of phages as an alternative to antibiotics. It is estimated that there are potentially 10 times as many phages on Earth as there are bacterial cells with many new forms yet to be accurately classified. In fact, Dr. Blower has identified a range of phages from local water sources around Durham, with the help of undergraduate students who isolate, characterise and name their pet phages.

Phage therapy was in more common use between the years of 1920 and 1930. However, with the application of penicillin in the 1940s, antibiotics, which were cheaper and easier to use, became the primary form of infection treatment.

Dr Blower’s group is performing genetic analyses of BREX loci from multidrug-resistant plasmids and pathogenic bacteria to define the key proteins that are needed for phage resistance.

Biochemical and structural characterisation of the BREX proteins will then provide atomic resolution snapshots of the BREX mechanism. Following this process the team will then apply genomics approaches to various different suites of BREX-sensitive and BREX-resistant phages to identify the phage components that are vital to the BREX response.

Together these sources of data will enable the team to generate a model of the BREX process and identify which factors determine the outcome of a phage-BREX interaction.

At Durham University Dr Blower is Associate Professor in the Department of Biosciences, Visiting Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and a Member of the Biophysical Sciences Institute. He also belongs to the following research groups:

  • Biomolecular Interactions at the Department of Biosciences,
  • The Centre for Global Infectious Disease, and
  • The Filling the Void Special Interest Group at the Wolfson Research Institute for Health and Wellbeing.
  • You can find out more about Dr Blower’s research and academic career on the Durham University website here.

We are very pleased to be able to support work of the calibre of Dr. Blower’s research through a Lister Research Prize and are looking forward to the next phase (and indeed phage) of his research.