IMI Summer School First day

Written by Anna Schager of the IMI

It’s just after 10 am Monday morning 21st of July, 26 A level students are collected in the undercroft of the Biosciences building at University of Birmingham, munching cookies and drinking coffee and tea. They have all sacrificed one holy week of their precious summer vacation for the sake of science. For the next 5 days they will take part in the IMI Summer School, and will hopefully get some of those mysterious microbiology questions answered!  What is lurking in our houses, and how do we get rid of them? Are all microbes our enemies? How do you distinguish between different microbes? How do you purify DNA, and how can you visualize it? And most importantly, what does it really mean to be a scientist at IMI, and what do they do?


First difficult task of the day – spell your name right on the name-tag!


 Expectant students awaiting to take the dive into the amazing word of microbes.

But first things first, name-tags are on and it is time to get to know each other, a sort of team-building if you will. Creativity and thinking “outside the box” are nice words, but what do they mean practically? Well, after this morning there should be little doubt! Groups of students were sent out to collect items from a list where each successfully collected item generated certain points. Fair enough! Doesn’t seem so difficult. Let’s see: A painted face, something a million years old, a captured scent, a photograph of the whole team under water… wait, what?? A duet in harmony…. do we really have to sing???


Item treasure hunt. Something from the list is obviously hiding in the ground. Perhaps something made from a worm, a footprint, something that can convert energy or perhaps even a completed sudoku?


 Clusters of inventive brains in progress.

After this exhausting serious practice (winner to be announced) where creativity formally exploded and no thoughts were kept in any box, it was time for the tour of IMI…


Proud scientists proudly presented robots, all in different sizes. The smallest, no larger than a bar of soap, is actually capable of sequencing “a lot, lot, LOT of DNA bases in a VERY short time” – to quote Ashley Robinson! The biggest is able to screen literally thousands of chemical compounds for their antimicrobial effect, also in a very short time. What would we do without all those robots? There was also the opportunity to visit the newly built (and not in operation yet!) bio-safety lab – housing cat. 3 and 4 beasties such as HIV and Tuberculosis. Creepy…. Almost like the labs in the movies – all that was missing was the guys in white space suits!


After lunch there was a talk by Prof. Steve Busby

Steve's talk

Steve’s talk

on the amazing world of bacteria, and then it was time for the students to meet the microbes! At five different stations there were demonstrations on how to ferment bacteria, and how to distinguish between Aspergillus and Penicillin. Students were taught in the skilful art of gram staining bacteria and how cryptococcus infecting macrophages can be visualised by fluorescence. It may look fairly harmless but the awful truth is that the small green dot on the screen inside the big macrophage is actually responsible for 650 000– 600 000 human deaths per year! 


That’s a lot of tubes. Is there really a fermenter underneath?

Well, that was a looong day! A lot to take in. Time for some rest and prepare for a brand new day tomorrow. But not quite so, there is actually homework! Are you ever really alone? Time to see what is actually living there side by side with us, unseen to the naked eye. All students were sent home with the mission to swab surfaces of their home and cars

Kerstin swabs her radio

Kerstin swabs her radio

for bugs, only the imagination sets the limit. But also to bring with them for tomorrow, small samples of cleaning solutions, antimicrobial soaps and mouthwashes etc. they want, to determine how efficient they really are at killing bugs. OK, now you can go home! Except those of you who wants to see the really BIG robot in action one more time of course :-)


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The IMI Summer School is nearly here!

The IMI Summer School starts on Monday 21st July: a microbiology filled week which will 20130603_105649fuel the enthusiasm of A-level students for all things micro! The students will be finding and identifying the bugs that are lurking in their houses, on their iPads, on their smart phones and in the family car! They’ll also be testing how well the cleaning products that we all use around the house are at killing bacteria – watch this space for some scary results!

As well as all that the students will get the chance ‘to meet the microbes’, learn about biotechnology, see some worms eat some fluorescent bacteria, purify and identify some DNA and listen to some great talks from: Prof Steve Busby – The Amazing World Of Bacteria; Dr Andy Lovering – Extraordinary Microbes; and Dr Jess Blair – What Is A Superbug?

A total of 65 students applied to participate in our free course this year, the vast majority from schools within Birmingham, although we have participants from Stratford and Manchester! The IMI is very much looking forward to meeting them all and having a micro filled week!

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Prof Tim Mitchell’s Inaugural Lecture – Wednesday 4th June

Professor Tim Mitchell’s inaugural lecture, entitled “The Pneumococcus: Captain of the men of death” will take place on Wednesday 4th June at 4.30pm in the Leonard Deacon Lecture Theatre at the Medical School.

Tim Mitchell qualified with a BSc in Biological Sciences (Microbiology) from University of Birmingham in 1983. He was awarded a PhD from the same University in 1986. He obtained a Wellcome Trust Fellowship and spent 1 year at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He returned to the UK as a post-doctoral researcher and then Wellcome Trust Fellow at University of Leicester. In 1992 he was awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship and in 1996 moved to the University of Glasgow where he was appointed to the Chair of Microbiology. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists in 2004. In 2012 he returned to the University of Birmingham as Professor of Microbial Infection and Immunity. His research is focused on understanding the mechanisms by which bacteria cause disease and development of vaccines and therapeutic approaches to prevent pneumonia and meningitis.

For further information contact Yvonne Dawson ( 414 4054)

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Loman Lab to be one of the first recipients of the new Oxford Nanopore MinION sequencing platform

The Loman Lab has been chosen to be one of the first recipients of the new Oxford Nanopore MinION sequencing platform in their phase 1 early access programme. This is the much-hyped USB-stick sequencer which promises to be disposable and usable in the field, generating potentially unlimited read lengths and requiring little sample preparation. Nick expects theirs to arrive next month and will keep the IMI updated with their findings!

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Student success – Krachler lab

One of the first ever Krachler lab members, Cathy Hawley, was just accepted as a PhD student at the Royal Infirmary Hospital at Edinburgh. She spent the Summer 2012 with us, studying the effects of MAM-based adhesion inhibitors on wound healing. She was joint first author on a PLoS One paper we published last year and said this experience definitely boosted her ability to find a PhD position in these tough times. She will start her project in September, looking at tissue-resident macrophages.


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Video highlighting the Birmingham-Novartis funded project (VADER)

See link below to a video produced by the EU to advertise the industrial ITN training networks – it highlights the Birmingham-Novartis funded project (VADER) that was secured by Adam Cunningham, Ian Henderson and Cal MacLennan at Novartis.


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Individual-based modelling of biofilms using iDynoMiCS – 1 day workshop in Vienna (14.05.14)

IMI members Rob Clegg and Jan Kreft will be running a one day workshop in Vienna entitled Individual-based modelling of biofilms using iDynoMiCS. This workshop is part of the Biofilms6 conference, and takes place the day after the conference, on 14 May 2014.

The workshop is mainly for researchers who are thinking of using individual-based modelling of biofilms or have just started. Programming experience is not required but useful, as is experience with handling, visualising and analysing data.

More info on iDynoMiCS can be found on our iDynoMiCS lab pages or (which needs some updating but has useful info). For further information on the workshop see

For registration please email Jan Kreft (j.kreft at


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Steve Busby appointed Chairman of Biochemical Society

Steve Busby became Chairman of Biochemical Society ( on 1st January. The Biochemical Society is the UK’s largest and oldest member organisation that promotes molecular biosciences worldwide.  Its offices are at Charles Darwin House (just off Grays Inn Road in London) which it shares with the Society for General Microbiology and 3 other learned societies.

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OBE for former University of Birmingham Professor of Microbiology

Professor Nigel Brown, a former Head of School for Biological Sciences at the University of Birmingham, and currently TGAC’s Board of Trustees’ Chair, has just received an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his services to Science.

Awarded for his services to Science, as the President of the Society for General Microbiology and Emeritus Professor of Molecular Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh, the OBE recognises individuals who have played a major local role in an activity, including people whose work has made them known nationally in their chosen area.

The prestigious accolade is awarded by the honours system which acknowledges those who have made achievements in public life, committed themselves to serving and helping Britain.

On receiving the award, Professor Nigel Brown, said: “I am greatly honoured to receive an OBE for services to Science. I have always believed that it is not enough just to do science, but scientists also need to promote it and to help it thrive. I have been fortunate to work with teams of people of similar mind and I am delighted that my contribution has helped, and I hope that it will continue to do so through TGAC.”

Dr Mario Caccamo, Director of TGAC, said: “I would like to congratulate Prof. Nigel Brown on behalf of all TGAC staff for this award. We are extremely proud for this recognition and the impact that Nigel’s career has made in science. We look forward to continuing working with Nigel in developing TGAC as a centre of excellence.”

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Harry Smith Memorial Lecture – 25th March 2014

On 25th March 2014, Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer will be giving the Harry Smith Memorial Lecture. The title of the lecture will be ‘Antibiotic Resistance – a policy update’.  A brief summary of the lecture content will be issued shortly.

The event will start with refreshments at 4.30pm in the Wolfson Common Room, followed by the lecture at 5pm in the Leonard Deacon Lecture Theatre, in the Medical School.

CMO Lecture - A5 Poster (2)

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