Ben Temperton

I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at the University of Exeter. Following a seven-year career as a software engineer, I returned to science and received my Ph.D in Microbiology from Queen’s University Belfast in 2011, researching how marine microbes store phosphate in response to low-nutrient conditions found in the oceans. Fascinated by how nutrient limitation can drive genome streamlining, I moved to Oregon State to complete a postdoc in Steve Giovannoni’s lab. Whilst there, I was involved in numerous projects including metaproteomics, single-cell genomics and metagenomics to evaluate functional and taxonomic diversity of the Pelagibacterales, one of the most abundant organisms on Earth. During this time, I was involved in the discovery of the pelagiphages, viruses that infect the Pelagibacterales, and putatively the most abundant viruses on Earth. Thus began a deep interest in phage biology and their role in global carbon biogeochemistry. After a second postdoc at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, I established the UK’s first Environmental Single cell Genomics Centre, before moving to Exeter as a Lecturer in Bioinformatics in September 2015. There, I established a group to investigate host-virus interactions in organisms with streamlined genomes, coupling viral metagenomics with high-throughput culturing of fastidious bacteria and their phages. We are part of the BIOS-SCOPE team, researching how microbial interactions (particularly viral predation) influence carbon biogeochemistry in ocean gyres. To this end, we have developed novel ways of sequencing environmental viruses as well as isolating important virus-host model systems for experimental manipulation.

Throughout the COVID19 pandemic in 2020/21 I led the South West Sequencing Hub of COG-UK for genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2. Our team sequenced >5,000 genomes from local Pillar I and national Pillar II sites, feeding this information back to the national program to identify emerging strains and inform genomic epidemiology. During this time, we formed close working relationships with the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital respiratory clinicians. Following cessation of genomic surveillance, we continue to work with clinicians to develop phages as an adjunctive treatment of multi drug-resistant pathogens. We launched the Citizen Phage Library, a citizen science project to rapidly develop a national capability for phage therapy in the UK using samples collected by citizens. As well as isolating over 1,000 viruses to date, this project serves to inform the public about antimicrobial resistance and advocate for phage therapy.