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Colin Hill has a Ph.D in molecular microbiology and is a Professor in the School of Microbiology at University College Cork, Ireland. He is also a founding Principal Investigator in APC Microbiome Ireland in Cork, a large research centre devoted to the study of the role of the gut microbiota in health and disease. His main interests lie in the role of the microbiome in human and animal health. He is particularly interested in the effects of probiotics, bacteriocins, and bacteriophage. In 2005 Prof. Hill was awarded a D.Sc by the National University of Ireland in recognition of his contributions to research. In 2009 he was elected to the Royal Irish Academy and in 2010 he received the Metchnikoff Prize in Microbiology and was elected to the American Academy of Microbiology.  He has published more than 550 papers and holds 25 patents. He was president of ISAPP from 2012-2015.  More than 80 PhD students have been trained in his laboratory.

We might think of our microbiomes as inconsequential, but scientists are showing that’s not the case. Colin Hill says that our microbiomes are as important to our health as major organs, and he is studying how doctors might engage with this microbial community to better serve our health.

Listen and learn

  • What a day in the life of a bacterium might look like,
  • How bacteriophage infecting bacteria compares to the predator-prey relationship of animals, and
  • What scientists understand about the molecular genetics of bacteria and what short and long-term goals stem from that knowledge.

Colin Hill is a professor in the School of Microbiology at University College Cork in Ireland. He works in the molecular microbiology field and focuses on how bacteria behave in different situations, such as alongside the bacteriophage life cycle. A bacterium like E. Coli has literally thousands if not millions of different phages that infect them, for example, and these interactions make for evolutionary adaptations.

Most microbiome discussions in the media center on antibiotic resistance, but Professor Hill explains how intricate and impactful this world is. Research can not only help understand issues like bacteria that are resistant to all antibiotics, but point to a diverse community of microbes and relationships that affect the whole of human health.

A lot of bacterial behavior stems from evading or dealing with bacteriophages, and he discusses the evolutionary impact. In clarifying bacteriophage versus viruses, consider them a type of virus that infect bacteria. Bacteria have two main goals, says Dr. Hill: finding food to replicate and reproduce and avoiding bacteriophages. And the balance of predator and prey in our guts is as important as the balance of lion and antelope on the Serengeti. He adds that we need these predators: if prey is left unchecked, there’s a problem for both organisms.

Furthermore, scientists believe that the microbiome community plays a very significant role in our health, like an additional organ. Unlike our organs, though, we don’t have them when we are born. We start acquiring them the moment we take in our first meal.  “It’s a part of you,” he says, “and everyone’s is different.” Even more significant, researchers like Dr. Hill think our microbiomes can be manipulated. Listen in to find out how.

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