How our results have made a difference

Our Impact

The Application of Molecular Approaches to Public Health

For over thirty years at the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control and the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, the Maiden Laboratory has developed and applied novel microbiology approaches for improving public health.  We have integrated molecular and biochemical techniques within a natural history framework based on evolutionary and ecological principles.

The Pathogenic Neisseria

Two members of the bacterial genus Neisseria cause important diseases in humans:

  • Neisseria meningitidis (the meningococcus) causes meningitis and septicaemia, mostly in children and young adults.
  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae (the gonococcus) causes one of the most important sexually transmitted diseases worldwide.

Our meningococcal studies pioneered sequence-based approaches in microbial population biology and linked these with practical problems in bacterial taxonomy, typing, and vaccine design.  Many of these approaches have been widely used in microbiology, some becoming ‘textbook’ techniques.

Our work has improved understanding of how meningococcal vaccines work. We were the first to show directly that the conjugate polysaccharide vaccines, introduced at the turn of the century, had a strong herd immunity effect.  This has helped to formulate effective immunisation policies worldwide, including in the deployment of the conjugate serogroup A polysaccharide vaccine (PsA-TT, MenAfriVac®) in the meningitis belt of sub-Saharan Africa, where we observed a similar herd immunity effect.  Our genomic studies enabled the Meningitis Research Foundation Meningococcus Genome Library, which in combination with our research with the Public health England Meningococcus Reference Unit, supported the introduction of conjugate meningococcal ACYW vaccines into the UK immunisation schedule in 2015.  Again, we have been able to show that this vaccine has a strong herd immunity effect.  More details are available here.

Similar approaches are helping us to understand gonococcal disease, especially how antibiotic resistance differs around the world and in the design of gonococcal vaccines.


Campylobacteriosis is the most common cause of bacterial gastroenteritis, that is food poisoning, worldwide. Two species of Campylobacter cause most human cases of this disease. Campylobacter jejuni is responsible for approximately one in ten cases of campylobacteriosis, with Campylobacter coli causing most of the remainder.  This is a zoonotic infection, that is, a disease that humans acquire from animals, but Campylobacter are so widespread and so diverse that it can be difficult to identify precisely where cases of human infection are coming from.  Our development of a multilocus sequence typing (MLST) scheme for C. jejuni and C. coli enabled the rational investigation of campylobacteriosis for the first time.

In addition to identifying the population structure of these bacteria we were able to show that particular genotypes are associated with particular host animals.

You can read about some of our Campylobacter work here.

Databases and Bioinfomatics

We have developed and applied a range of databases and bioinformatic approaches for the exploitation of molecular data in clinical microbiology and public health. has an associated YouTube channel where you can learn more about the platform and its capabilities.

Training and Public Engagement.

We undertake a range of public engagement activities, some of them are described here

In addition to contributing extensively to graduate and undergraduate teaching in Oxford, we also particpate in a range of international training courses. Of particular note are the Wellcome Trust Connecting Science Courses Genomics and Clinical Microbiology and Molecular Approaches to Clinical Microbiology in Africa, which we have palyed a major role in developing and delivering since 2005 and 2009, respectively.