Emma Trantham

Going to be sad to say good bye to you all - you've asked such great questions!

Favourite Thing: My favourite moments in my work are when I first get a set of results in a big experiment – it’s a moment when I know something about the disease I work with that no one else knows yet!



The Grange School, Hartford, Cheshire (from 1990-2003), The University of Bristol Vet School (2003-2009)



Work History:

I spent a very brief time in practice but then worked as a research assistant in my lab for 6 months before starting my PhD. As a vet I have done lots and lots of (unpaid) work experience with a whole variety of animals. (A bit long to list here but please ask if you want to know more)

Current Job:

PhD student


University of Bristol

Me and my work

I work with bacteria that can give you really nasty food poisoning (vomiting… diarrhoea… the lot) trying to figure out why so many chickens carry them and how we can get rid of them.

When I was at school I desperately wanted to be a vet and so I went to Bristol Vet School for university.  While there I got really interested in diseases that we can catch from animals and that animals can catch from us (these are called zoonoses).  I am now a qualified vet but have chosen to do a PhD to learn more about one specific bacterial species we can catch from animals: Campylobacter jejuni.

Generally  we catch this from eating raw/undercooked chicken or from other food that has been contaminated by raw chicken.  It can give us really nasty vomiting and diarrhoea (lasting for days!)  It can also (thankfully much more rarely) trigger longer term conditions that affect our nerves and cause paralysis.

Although the bacteria cause disease in us they don’t apparently cause disease in chickens – they live quite happily in the chickens’ guts until the birds go for slaughter.  My PhD involves looking at how they survive so happily in a chicken’s guts and why they are not kicked out by the chicken’s immune system.

My Typical Day

I don’t really have a ‘typical’ day – some days I will be counting lots of clumps of bacteria, some days I will be making lots of copies of a certain stretch of DNA, some days I will be growing human or chicken cells in dishes.

I probably spend the majority of my day in the lab.  A lot of this time it’s not very glamorous work – lots of labelling of tubes and dishes, lots of moving tiny volumes of liquids from one tube to another – but it’s all worth it when I get the results.

Over the course of my PhD I haven’t really stuck to one type of experiment – I am using lots of different types to try to pin down some of the ways my bacteria behave which makes it a little tricky to describe a ‘typical day’ in the lab because what I do changes from day to day but to give you some idea…

I spend rather a lot of time working with chicken poo!  I put some of the poo (often diluted) on agar plates and then come back 2 days later and count the number of clumps of bacteria that are growing to give me an idea of how many the chicken was carrying.  (Agar is a bit like jelly and it provides nutrients that allow the bacteria to grow.  It is allowed to set in flat circular dishes called ‘petri dishes’ and then we spread a sample that has bacteria on it.  The bacteria will grow and you will see clumps of them on the plates – called colonies – and sometimes I need to count how many there are.) 

I also currently have some cells growing in an incubator (because they need to be kept warm) in the lab.  I will look at these every day to check that they are growing properly and that they have not got infected.  I also have to feed them several times a week with a special liquid that contains lots of nutrients.  When the cells are ready I will deliberately infect them with Campylobacter to see what the bacteria do and how the cells respond.

When not in the lab I have to put my results onto the computer so that I can analyse the results and then make some graphs.   I also try to write up my experiments as I go along.

I will also check pretty much every day to see if anything new has been published in my area of work.  (Science results get published in journals and different journals publish on different days so it is always worth a quick check.)  I will read any papers that look interesting.

Finally, if I have some time at the end of the day I will check out some of the science blogs I follow and the Microbiology Societies’ facebook pages and Twitter feeds.

What I'd do with the money

I’m currently developing a microbiology badge for Rainbows/Brownies/Guides and would like to trial this over more units (and potentially develop a similar badge for Beavers/Cubs/Scouts)

I’ve been developing a microbiology badge for Rainbows/Brownies/Guides. Over the next few months I will be trialling it with 1 Brownie unit and 1 Guide unit that are run by my friend (who is also a microbiologist).

So far activities include making cuddly bacteria, pond-dipping for algae, designing a 3 course meal where every course involves food that either is a microbe (mushrooms count as microbes because they are fungi) or has been made using microbes (like yoghurt), and lots more.

I would like to trial it in more units, especially units where the leaders aren’t scientists to check that it makes sense and is a useful resource.  The money would help pay for the craft materials and would also help pay for badges for all the children that complete the activities.

I would also like to extend the scheme to Beavers/Cubs/Scouts and think with the £500 I would have enough money to approach them about trialling the badge.

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

Food-lover, bookaholic, inquisitive

Who is your favourite singer or band?


What is the most fun thing you've done?

Being a dolphin trainer for a day

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

What did you want to be after you left school?


Were you ever in trouble in at school?

I’m afraid I was a bit of a goody-two-shoes!

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Gone to Vancouver, Canada for a conference – the conference was great itself but it was a fabulous opportunity to see somewhere in the world I probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise

Tell us a joke.

What’s brown and sticky? A stick!

Other stuff

Work photos:

The Christmas tree in our office beautifully decorated with the knitted bacteria made by my very talented colleague!


 This is my lab bench:


And this is it with a few bits explained:


And these flasks are what I grow my cells in: