Oonagh Bodin - Interview with postdoc Dr Sam Manna

Posted by on 19 August 2016 | Comments

I first met Sam whilst he was doing his PhD at La Trobe University in the same department that I am currently studying in. Since completing Sam has moved on and is doing a Post Doc at the Murdoch Childrens' Research Institute!

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Can you tell us a little about your PhD?

I completed my PhD at La Trobe University, which focused on understanding the role of proteins involved in the regulation of mitochondrial gene expression in eukaryotic microbes at the transcriptional and post-transcriptional levels. I really enjoyed my project as it expanded into so many unexpected areas such as horizontal gene transfer, phylogenetics and RNA methylation, allowing me to gain knowledge in a diverse range of areas.

What drew you to this area of research?

During my undergraduate degree, I developed a strong interest in microbiology and I have always had an interest in genetics. So this project just seemed like an opportunity to combine both. Although, I had a strong interest in bacteriology, the idea of working with eukaryotic microbes like amoebae appealed to me as a new challenge to expand my skill set further. It worked out quite nicely because the direction my project headed meant that I got to do quite a bit of bacterial work anyway!

What are you currently studying/researching?

After my PhD, I had a strong interest in performing research that was more clinically-relevant. So for my postdoc, I switched fields and joined the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute to study Streptococcus pneumoniae (also known as the pneumococcus) under the leadership of Dr Catherine Satzke and Professor Kim Mulholland. This bacterial pathogen is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide commonly causing pneumonia, otitis media, sepsis and meningitis in children under the age of five. My research uses infection models to investigate various aspects of pneumococcal pathogenesis and potential strategies for the prevention and treatment of pneumococcal disease. I am quite lucky because our group also has a strong clinical research program, carrying out pneumococcal vaccine impact studies in countries with high pneumococcal disease burden. This means I also get quite a bit of exposure to the translational aspect of research.

If researching in a different field from your PhD, have you been able to apply the techniques learnt during your PhD?

I would say that the techniques learnt in my PhD have definitely been useful in my postdoc. However, I would argue that it’s the personal qualities and experience from my PhD that have been important rather than the techniques themselves. For example, the ability to think independently, to design an experiment, to write a paper, to troubleshoot and experiment – it is these abilities and more that I learnt during my PhD which have proven invaluable in my postdoc.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

I hope to still be working as a microbiology researcher with a strong publication and funding track record that is continuing to develop. I hope to have a wide range of technical skills that are applicable across multiple disciplines including microbiology, as well as molecular and cellular biology and bioinformatics skills. And I hope I am still producing high quality research that is highly significant.

Why did you choose to study microbiology?

Microbiology was something that I fell into. I was always interested in genetics and so when I began my tertiary studies, this was the path I wanted to take. I chose microbiology as my second major because the course had a strong genetic component. But when I began studying microbiology, I found the whole area fascinating and couldn’t picture myself doing anything else. There are so many applications of microbiology to the real world and this is what appealed to me because I can foresee that the research I am conducting has implications for society.

Sam tweets regularly @sam_manna3 Follow his account to keep up to date with whats happening in his research!

If you also want to learn more about the Pneumococcal research that happens in this lab visit their website HERE