We study the fundamental bacterial cell biology of obligate intracellular bacteria with a particular focus on the Rickettsiales. These are a group of vector-borne bacteria that cause a range of diseases in humans and animals. We primarily focus on the bacterium Orientia tsutsugamushi, causative agent of scrub typhus. This affects at least 1 million people per year and has a mean case fatality of 6% in untreated patients. Despite its prevalence and severity it is understudied compared to equivalent pathogens, and is even absent from the official World Health Organisation list of neglected tropical diseases.
The motivations for our research programme are two-fold. First to use Orientia tsutsugamushi as a model system to ask fundamental questions about the adaptation of bacteria to the intracellular replicative niche. Second, to use our understanding of bacterial cell biology to address unmet patient need including improved diagnostics and treatments for scrub typhus.