Gerrit Koop

The DNA of a pathogen is fascinating

"I'm interested in the molecular epidemiology of infectious diseases. The DNA of pathogens contains clues about what a pathogen needs to thrive in a certain environment and what drives its transmission. Molecular tools, such as DNA sequencing, help understand the biology behind infectious diseases, and I believe that this understanding is essential for designing prevention strategies.

Comparing genomes
Today, we can sequence a whole bacterial genome relatively easily and inexpensively. I find it fascinating to browse through a genome to see which genes are present and to compare the genomes of bacteria cultured from different hosts to see how the DNA relates to for instance the disease phenotype from which it was cultured. Systematically studying pathogen genomes and their background can reveal information about the interaction between the pathogen and it’s host in the disease process. Ultimately, my aim is to produce knowledge relevant for the veterinary field and to translate the knowledge in such a way that it is applicable by farmers and veterinarians.

My current research focuses on Staphylococcus aureus. This is a bacterial species that causes a wide range of diseases in many animal species, such as cattle, sheep, poultry, companion animals but also in humans. In ruminants, it is one of the major causes of mastitis, which is a very painful and sometimes lethal disease. If we can prevent mastitis, by preventing the bacteria to spread between animals, we may reduce animal suffering and also make the food chain more efficient and sustainable. And, perhaps just as important, it will make the work of farmers more enjoyable!

The biology of infectious diseases
Although I was trained as a veterinarian, I never worked in practice. Being a vet is a fascinating job, and I enjoy working with farmers and animals. But combining this with the possibility to gain a deeper understanding of the biology of infectious diseases - all the way from the DNA of the bacteria to what we observe in the populations - is for me a real privilege.”