Worms as a Versatile Tool for Host-Pathogen Interaction Studies and Discovery of Anti-infectives


The nematode animal model, Caenorhabditis elegans, has gained popularity not only as a model for dissecting general biological processes but also for comprehending the pathogenesis of disease. Large-scale efforts have been directed at understanding function, regulation, interaction and expression of the entire complement of genes in the worm genome.  Over the last 10-15 years, C. elegans has been adopted as a versatile model to study host-pathogen interactions as well as to identify new antimicrobials in the search for alternatives to currently available antibiotics. Although the interrogation of the host immune response to microbial infection in this model is generally limited to studying the innate immune response, nevertheless, the evolutionarily conserved immune system has allowed for strong associations between findings in the worm and extrapolation to the biochemistry of human infections. Concomitantly, traditional in vitro and whole cell drug screens are acknowledged as the established paradigm for identifying antimicrobial molecules. Nevertheless, the whole animal approach allows for early and direct assessment of in vivo drug efficacy, thus, eliminating compounds that are toxic to the host or with poor biochemical and pharmacokinetic properties. Prof Sheila will describe how her experimental findings derived from working with C. elegans have contributed new knowledge on understanding the biochemistry of pathogenesis as well as the action of natural products in modulating host gene expression.

Speaker’s Profile:

Professor Dr Sheila Nathan completed her undergraduate study in biochemistry at Malaysia National University (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, UKM) before specializing on Molecular Biology & Genetic Manipulation (DNA repair) in her post graduate studies (Master and PhD) at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom. She joined Faculty of Life Sciences UKM since 1993, served as Director of Comparative Genomics and Genetics Research Centre, Malaysia Genome Institute from 2009 – 2013 and currently the Programme Head for Bioinformatics, Plant Biotechnology and Biotechnology with Management, Faculty of Science & Technology, UKM.

Prof Sheila received several Excellence Service Awards (1997, 2000, 2005 and 2014) and National Academic Award (2014), the awards given by the Government of Malaysia to civil servants who have excelled in terms of their work performance and excellence in scientific publishing amongst university academics. As a national and international renowned scientist, Prof Sheila serves as editorial board member of several important journals and research grants expert review panel of a number of funding bodies e.g. Ministry of Science, Technology & Innovation (Malaysia), Wellcome Trust UK, Cariplo Foundation Italy, Austrian Science Fund (FWF, Austria). Her current research interests are microbial pathogenesis and host interaction. As the Head of C. elegans Research Facility in Malaysia Genome Institute, Prof Sheila is currently the principal investigator of more than 10 granted research projects.