Dr. Michael Mulvey
Chief, Antimicrobial Resistance and Nosocomial Infections, National Microbiology Laboratory, Public Health Agency of Canada
Associate Professor, Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Manitoba
Adjunct Professor, Department of Microbiology, University of Manitoba
Adjunct Professor, Department of Medical Microbiology, University of Calgary
U of M Degrees:
BSc Microbiology (1985)
PhD Microbiology (1990)
“It’s truly the discovery I love the most. Learning new things all the time keeps this job exciting and fun. I love what I do and that’s what drives me. I’m very fortunate, and it’s sort of a cliché – but my work is my hobby.”
What was your strongest memory from your time studying at the U of M, Faculty of Science?
I would say both my overall undergraduate experience, and my graduate experience. In undergrad, it just seemed like the world opened up to me. I have very fond memories of all the people I met from all over the world, discovering new areas of science, and all the fun we had, playing pinball or sitting in the science lounge playing cards. Once I hit my graduate studies, just being able to learn how to do research properly, and having my own first scientific research project for my PhD thesis, was absolutely wonderful. Knowing that you’re the first one to potentially be doing these types of experiments, and discovering these new things that maybe no one else has learned before, was extremely exciting. I always liken it to Christmas time, when you’re opening a present and you don’t know what’s inside. To this day, I love designing the experiments and I can’t wait to find out what the outcome is. Even in my job today, I learn something new every day.
What opportunity during or after your time in the Faculty of Science helped launch your career?
I owe it all to my PhD supervisor and mentor, Dr. Peter Loewen. I had two opportunities for a post-doctoral fellowship – at University of Toronto to study human embryology, or at University of Alberta to study virology. I knew the new virology lab was going to be built in Winnipeg, and thought if I ever wanted to come back to get a job in my hometown, going into virology would improve my chances. I was sitting at my desk in the lab when Dr. Loewen walked by and asked whether I’d made a decision. I had just learned U of A wasn’t going to choose anyone for a few months, but U of T wanted an answer right away, so I figured I’d go there. Dr. Loewen just told me to hang on, and he walked out. When he came back I found out he had called the prof at U of A, who he was good friends with, and highly recommended me. They took him on his word and accepted me that day. That changed my life for sure, lining me up for the job with the Public Health Agency of Canada, which got me back to Winnipeg.
What is the most fascinating and/or engaging experience you have had during your career in science?
If you talk to any scientist, they’ll tell you it’s all about discovery, and learning new things. You never know what you’re going to wake up to and come into work and find. It might be a potentially brand new type of resistance that no one else has ever discovered before, or being able to help the infection control people who are right on the hospital wards to control an outbreak there. It’s that kind of novel discovery area that I enjoy so much. But it’s also very satisfying to provide support and leadership to the hospital and provincial labs, so they have the appropriate tests to detect the antibiotic resistance that’s new or emerging in Canada.
What was it like to discover and characterize rpoS, the gene responsible for the stationary phase regulon in E.coli, as part of your thesis work?
As far as the science goes, that was the biggest discovery I’ve ever made and I don’t think I’ll top that in the rest of my life. It was while I was doing my PhD in Dr. Loewen’s lab, and I remember we were looking at the actual sequence of the genes; I had done all the work and assembled all the DNA sequences. It was probably after midnight and I was lying on the floor in my living room watching 2001: A Space Odyssey, going over the data and comparing it to what other people had sequenced. I started seeing the sequence match up to another known sequence that had been published. I knew I’d discovered something that was going to be very important and involve controlling a lot of other genes in the cell.
Dr. Michael Mulvey’s junior high school interests weren’t exactly typical: he was fascinated by bacteria, fungi, and genetics. His love of microbiology definitely started at a young age, and he says he was “one of the lucky few” who knew early on what his focus would be once he reached the University of Manitoba. Now he shares that love with students at both the University of Calgary and U of M, teaching budding microbiologists how to do proper research and write scientific publications. He also manages a lab that supports hospital and government labs during outbreak investigations involving antimicrobial resistant bacteria, and provides lab support to monitor its spread across Canada, linking the data they find into global surveillance.
Mulvey has achieved many firsts through his research, including sequencing and characterizing the antimicrobial resistant genomic island in a multidrug resistant clone of Salmonella Typhimurium that has spread globally, identifying the emergence of extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBLs) in Canada, and sequencing a plasmid harbouring one of the most common ESBLs called CTX-M-15. Mulvey also studied and responded to antimicrobial resistance in northern communities in Saskatchewan, where high rates of the serious Staphylococcus aureus infection were found. After identifying the problem through surveillance, he designed educational interventions that cut the rate of related infections in the community in half.