The AFC was founded in the United Kingdom in 1954 as a forum for researchers working on the pathology and bacteriology of tuberculosis (TB) to meet and discuss their work. The Western Cape arm was established in 2016 as a partnership between the University of Cape Town (UCT) and Stellenbosch University. Their tag-line: “Bringing the Western Cape Mycobacterial community together” is an invitation for researchers to build collaborations, be exposed to inspiring speakers in the field, and to learn about cutting-edge local TB research.
Winkler says, “It’s a fantastic experience, especially for people like me who’ve only been here (IDM) for a couple of months now, to get to present research and interact with people who are physically quite close but whom we don’t get to speak to very often. It’s a platform for sharing ideas.”
Winkler is based at the IDM’s Molecular Mycobacteriology Research Unit (MMRU). Here, the research is focused on “aspects of mycobacterial physiology and metabolism of relevance to tuberculosis drug discovery, drug resistance, mycobacterial persistence and tuberculosis transmission”.
She describes her work as: “Looking at network interactions using CRISPR interference; a way of partially suppressing a gene – and then looking at the effect of that. The interference can be done as a library – so looking at a lot of suppressed genes at one go. The interesting part of the project is that we’re doing two genes at once. That’s where the term ‘network interference’ comes in. We’re trying to better understand the networks.” She continues, ““A lot of science focuses on the mechanics of one gene at a time. We’re trying to better understand how the system works. So you interfere with two components to see what will happen.”
Construction of a CRISPR interference Library in Mycobacteria to Elucidate Genetic Redundancies is the title of Winkler’s project. Work she’s enjoying because of how open-ended it is: “It’s quite blue sky. And is likely to have some really interesting and unpredictable results.”
For her the AFC, where she had to prepare for the presentation by synthesising her work into a handful of slides, was a useful experience. “You’re supposed to use three slides – I used a lot more. I had to condense my work down to its essence. Which is important because that’s often all you need to know as an outsider... I now have an even better understanding of what I intend to do. I got very positive feedback.”
She adds, “It was a good opportunity to get myself out there – to talk about the science and receive input on what I’m working on and what I’m planning to do…I’m more confident in what I’m doing. Especially with being thrown in the deep end and being asked questions that I could answer.” There was definite value in going through the process of interacting with the work and learning to communicate it.