Dr Marjan Van der Woude


Reader in Microbiology

Role at Hull York Medical School

Dr Van der Woude is a microbiologist based at the University of York with expertise in the molecular microbiology bacteria and bacterial virulence. She is part of the newly established York Biomedical Research Institute and the Experimental Medicine and Biomedicine group at HYMS, with labs integrated with those of EMB and Biology colleagues.

Her research programme focuses on Gram-negative pathogens, virulence mechanisms, and the occurrence, significance and mechanisms of population heterogeneity. The research current focus is on bacterial surface carbohydrates and Contact Dependent Inhibition, with interdisciplinary colllaborations. The lab’s research has been funded by the EU, BBSRC, MRC and Wellcome Trust. You can find her lab among that with colleagues from EMB and Biology in Immunology and Infection adjacent to the Biology Department at the University of York.

Dr. van der Woude teaches on Phase I MBBS programme and the BSc and iMSC Biomedical Sciences programme at York, which is jointly owned between HYMS and Biology. Since she is currently the Director of Post graduate Research for HYMS, having previously fulfilled a wide range of administrative roles within the University, the Hull York Medical School and Biology.

She continues to serve on a RCUK panel, and previously held, among others, roles as programme external examiner and Biochemical journal editor.


Marjan is a member of the Experimental Medicine and Biomedicine research group.

Bacterial pathogenesis

The success of a bacterial species depends on its ability to grow and survive in a changing and potentially hostile environment. This requires adaptation at both the single cell and population level. We are particularly interested in understanding the basic aspects of how the success of populations of bacterial pathogens is underpinned by phenotypic heterogeneity. We apply our insight to developing and understanding mechanisms of action of novel antimicrobial therapies and vaccine enhancement. Our approaches use combined molecular biology and genetic approaches with genomics, immunology and mathematical modeling, and collaborate with physicists, mathematicians, biochemists, and clinical researchers, internal and external to the University, as needed to expand the range of approaches and to progress our science.

The UofY work has been funded by EU Marie Curie, BBSRC, MRC and the Wellcome Trust. Details can be obtained by visiting the link to the York Research Database under the publications tab. The main research questions and projects are outlined below.

An aspect of bacterial populations that is only beginning to be fully appreciated is the heterogeneity of single cells in clonal populations. This heterogeneity raises a multitude of questions of broad significance. How does this heterogeneity arise, which processes are affected by this, and what is the overall effect on the success of the population? Our aim is to shed light on the contribution of population heterogeneity to the strategies bacteria use to survive, prosper, and evolve.Altering antigenicity is a common bacterial virulence strategy, and this often is a heterogenous trait. We are examining this in Enterobacteriaceae. We have identified Salmonella genes that alter this pathogen’s antigenicity, specifically on carbohydrate surface molecules (the LPS), and have shown that expression phase varies, resulting in population heterogeneity. Our work has elucidated mechanisms of bacterial epigenetic regulation by DNA methylation, which is giving insight into phenotypes of natural pathogen populations. We are studying the enzymes that mediate these cell surface changes, and are addressing how these modifications and the heterogeneity impact the interactions of the pathogen with the environment (host or otherwise).

This work also is carried out in context of several collaborations. This line of research is in part basic science, and in part aims to provide knowledge that may inform vaccine development strategies and diagnostics, provide insights into pathogen evolution, and may lead to the identification of novel anti-virulence strategies.

Bacterial infections remain a significant health concern, and are caused by populations of bacteria that have to survive and grow in competitive environments and complex environments. In an interdisciplinary collaboration we examined how individual cells and contact dependent toxins affect cell-cell interactions and community development. We showed that the population distribution in two-strain populations as growing colonies is influenced by very mildly active toxins. This work was carried out in an iterative manner with mathematical modelling (see Bottery et al), and facilitated by equipment and expertise from the Imaging and Cytometry labs in the University’s Technology Facility. These insights have led us to pursue new and testable hypotheses on the roles of CDI for population behaviour.

The lab’s microbiology knowledge and expertise supports a range of research activities across the University and disciplines, on novel diagnostic approaches, antimicrobial targets and antimicrobial therapies.



I give lectures for Hull York Medical Students and for students in the Biosciences Programmes.  I adhere to research led teaching, focusing on introducing concepts both classical and new, disseminating factual knowledge, and providing insight and background to research papers/experiments.  The lectures provide overall support for learning.  I teach microbiology with topics ranging from basic science to pathogenesis, mainly relating to bacteria.  Lectures are tailored to the group I am speaking to and context I am teaching in.


Small group teaching, as in tutorials (Biosciences) or SSIPs (HYMS), allow students to explore scientific topics of their own choosing -within the tutorial remit of “bacteria”, where topics may still range from bacterial pathogenesis to industrial applications, to antimicrobial resistance. Students’ participation is key and their interests help shape the direction of the sessions.  We use the sessions as a platform to discuss science and scientific processes, practice critical thinking, study cutting edge research and novel findings, and explore how science works. Broader issues like research ethics, what science graduates can offer society or how much research costs have also been explored.


Research projects for intercalating, undergraduate and Masters students are aligned with the research activities that are ongoing in the lab at the time.  I offer primarily lab-based projects, frequently molecular microbiology oriented, but image analysis or other computational projects may be available.  Please see the research tab for an overview of current research activities. 


Visit Dr van der Woude's profile on the York Research Database to see a full list of publications, browse activities and projects, explore connections, collaborations, related work and more.

Postgraduate research supervision

Dr Van der Woude welcomes supervision enquiries from prospective students interested in undertaking postgraduate research- either a PhD or a 12 month MSc by thesis/ research.

Dr Van der Woude has supervised or co-supervised more than 10 PhD students, and multiple MSc by Research; she was Director of the interdisciplinary Wellcome Trust CIDCATS PhD programme, and has been on many thesis advisory panels and served as internal and external PhD examiner.