'Living antibiotic' pioneer elected Fellow of Royal Society

A University of Nottingham microbiologist who has pioneered research into a species of friendly bacteria that can kill pathogenic superbugs has been elected Fellow of the Royal Society.

Professor Liz Sockett, from the School of Life Sciences, is the first female scientist from the University of Nottingham to be made a Fellow and is one of fifty eminent scientists from across the world to be elected to the prestigious Society this year. She follows in the footsteps of many other prominent Nottingham Fellows including Professor of Chemistry Martyn Poliakoff and the late Professor Bryan Clarke.1

Liz has made her name leading what she describes as her ‘wonderful research group’ in the global fight against antibiotic resistance through their work on the predatory bacterium Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus. These bacteria act like ‘living antibiotics’ as they naturally invade and destroy pathogenic superbugs like Klebsiella, E. coli, and Salmonella which cause increasingly hard to treat infections.

Reacting to her new Fellowship, Professor Sockett said: “I’m very honoured to be elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. It is recognition of what a fascinating living creature the predatory bacterium Bdellovibrio bacteriovorus is, and what amazing details can be discovered by working with diverse colleagues who bring insights, dedication and kindness to work daily.

“I’ve always had an amazing research group, from the very early days when we did manual DNA sequencing of bacterial genes, listening to recordings of ‘the Three Tenors’ to now when we use multi-colour microscopy, and handle problematic pathogens, to advance our understanding of how bacteria can evolve to kill each other.

“Science is hard work and I’ve not always been right, but we’ve been good at picking ourselves up again and trying a new approach when things didn’t turn out as I hoped.

“Our current lab is a wonderful team to work with: Carey Lambert and Rob Till have made Bdellovibrio research blossom since the early days. Jess Tyson and Paul Radford have added many applied science skills to our experimental repertoire, along with important discoveries from our postgraduate and undergraduate researchers, technical staff, and visiting fellows.

“Past lab members all added to our natural knowledge of Bdellovibrio and have gone on to do great things in many professions worldwide. They and our fantastic collaborators including Andy Lovering in Birmingham, Serge Mostowy in London, Alex Willis and Mat Diggle now in Canada, Erkin Kuru in the USA and Shin-ichi Aizawa in Japan have all helped me a great deal and I thank them for that.”

Professor Dame Jessica Corner, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Knowledge Exchange at the University of Nottingham said: “I am absolutely delighted that Liz Sockett has been awarded this most prestigious scientific honour, it is richly deserved. Liz is one of the University of Nottingham’s leading women scientists, her work into predatory bacteria, showing their anti-pathogen activities and alliances with host’s immune system in killing bacterial infection, is amongst the most exciting in science today and has massive potential for developing new antibacterial systems for human health. It is wonderful that she has been recognised by the Royal Society for her work.”

Professor Sir Martyn Poliakoff added: “I am delighted that Liz’s outstanding work has been recognised in this way. We have been colleagues at the University for many years and I am always impressed by Liz’s huge enthusiasm for science, an enthusiasm that she communicates so effectively through unstinting outreach to the public. As a former Foreign Secretary of the Royal Society, I am also delighted that the work of leading women scientists is at last being properly recognised. Indeed, Liz is the first woman from our University ever to be elected to the Royal Society. I hope that she is leading the way for others to follow.”

Venki Ramakrishnan, President of the Royal Society, said: “Over the course of the Royal Society’s vast history, it is our Fellowship that has remained a constant thread and the substance from which our purpose has been realised; to use science for the benefit of humanity. This year’s newly elected Fellows and Foreign Members of the Royal Society embody this, being drawn from diverse fields of enquiry—epidemiology, geometry, climatology—at once disparate, but also aligned in their pursuit and contributions of knowledge about the world in which we live, and it is with great honour that I welcome them as Fellows of the Royal Society.”

Professor Sockett will be formally admitted as a Fellow to the Royal Society at the Admissions Day ceremony in July, when she will sign the Charter Book and the Obligation of the Fellows of the Royal Society.

A podcast of Liz as Jim Al-Khalili’s guest on BBC Radio 4’s The Life Scientific is available here.

1 Other fellows of the Royal Society from the University of Nottingham include the inventor of the brain tumour drug temozolomide, Malcolm Stevens, chemists Dave Garner, Gerry Pattenden, Tony Stace and Jim Turner, physicists Tom Foxon and Laurence Eaves, plant biologist Don Grierson and also Professors Bob Lloyd, Ted Cocking, and the late Bryan Clarke who made their research discoveries in departments which became part of the present School of Life Sciences.