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Molecular Geneticist

Slade - a postgraduate fellow at the University of Sydney Dr Slade Jensen is a postgraduate fellow in the Moecular Genetics Laboratory at The University of Sydney.

What exactly do you do?

I am interested in microbial evolution and the mechanisms that facilitate genetic exchange between bacteria.

Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) plays an important role in the acquisition of new properties, such as pathogenicity and antibiotic resistance, and is therefore a driving force in "short-term" evolution, allowing bacteria to be masters of adaptation.

The development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria is a major healthcare problem around the world and strains commonly become resistant by acquiring pre-existing resistance determinants from the bacterial gene pool.

Mobile genetic elements, such as plasmids, transposons and insertion sequences, play a central role in facilitating HGT and therefore promote the acquisition and spread of these resistance determinants. As such, bacterial populations can rapidly become resistant when exposed to an antimicrobial agent. Strains of Staphylococcus aureus "Golden Staph" are a major cause of hospital-acquired infections and most clinical strains contain multiple resistance plasmids.

My research focuses on characterising DNA segregation mechanisms in staphylococci, in particular, plasmid partitioning systems which contribute to the stable maintenance of multiresistance plasmids in the absence of selective pressure (i.e. antimicrobial agents).


Multiresistant staphylococci are a major cause of nosocomial infections and are now emerging as a significant cause of infections in the wider community.

Therefore, apart from the general pursuit of knowledge, which I think is still very important, my research may provide opportunities for the development of targeted interventions to disrupt plasmid carriage and reduce the incidence of antimicrobial resistance within healthcare facilities.

Such approaches are urgently needed to maximise the efficacy of existing and future antimicrobial therapies.

The perfectly spherical cells of the gram-positive bacteria,
Staphylococcus aureus, grow in grape-like clusters.
Each cell is 1 micrometer in diameter
How did you become a scientist?

At school I wanted to be a musician or a scientist.

It is somewhat embarrassing to admit but a flip of the coin guided me in the decision, though it wasn't until the final year of a Bachelor of Medical Science degree that I discovered bacteria. I was quite fascinated to learn that inside/on a person there are 10 times as many bacterial cells as there are human cells.

However it was a lecture series on the molecular mechanisms of bacterial pathogenesis that really got me hooked.

What do you like about your job?

Being the first person to discover something is quite a thrill, however I get excited about any new result, no matter how trivial.

Another great thing is that you get to go on fantastic overseas holidays (oops, I mean attend conferences) and meet interesting people.

Is it your dream job or is that still to come?

Yes it is, however if I could do this and earn several million dollars a year that would be better.

Career highlight so far?

Segrosome structure of the
Staphylococcus aureus
multiresistance plasmid pSK41

In collaboration with a research group from the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, USA, we have recently determined a key structure of the DNA segregation mechanism of an S. aureus multiresistance plasmid, which serves as a model system for the movement of DNA in dividing cells.

This work revealed the structure of a protein-DNA complex called the segrosome, which is required for the movement of DNA in dividing cells to achieve faithful inheritance of genetic information - a process that is fundamental to all living things. It also didn't hurt that the research was published in Nature.

Where are you located?

I am part of the Molecular Genetics Laboratory at The University of Sydney.

Find out more about Slade Jensen and the Molecular Genetics Laboratory

Molecular Genetics Laboratory - at The University of Sydney

Find out more about Golden Staph

Golden Staph - Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) - from Queensland Health

Staphylococcus aureus - golden staph - from Better Health Channel, Victoria
Find out more about Molecular Genetics

MOLECULAR GENETICS: PIECING IT TOGETHER - from National Center for Biotechnology Information

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