Dr Helen Louise Brown

Research Fellow
PhD, MSc, BSc (hons)


Areas of specialism

interactions within biofilms; bacterial biofilm formation

My qualifications

PhD Microbiology
Institute of food Research, Norwich
MSc Biomedical basis of disease
Sheffield Hallam University

My publications


Helen Louise Brown, Aled Edward Lloyd Roberts, Rose Cooper, Rowena Eleri Jenkins (2016). A review of selected bee products as potential anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-viral agents
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Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the greatest medical challenges the world faces. It was estimated recently that by 2050, AMR will account for 10 million extra deaths annually with additional economic costs in the region of $100 trillion. In order to combat this, novel antimicrobial agents with a broad spectrum of activity are required. Bee products, including; honey, propolis, defensins, royal jelly, bee pollen and venom have been used to treat infectious diseases for several centuries, although they were largely disregarded by Western medicine during the antibiotic era. There has since been a resurgence in interest in their antimicrobial properties, especially due to their reported activity against multi-drug resistant pathogens displaying high levels of AMR. In this paper we review the current scientific literature of honey, propolis, honey bee, defensins, royal jelly, bee pollen and bee venom. We highlight the antimicrobial activity each of these products has displayed and potential future research directions.
Helen Louise Brown, Aled Edward Lloyd Roberts, Rowena Eleri Jenkins (2015). On the antibacterial effects of manuka honey: mechanistic insights
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Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is an increasing clinical problem precipitated by the inappropriate use of antibiotics in the later parts of the 20th Century. This problem, coupled with the lack of novel therapeutics in the development pipeline, means AMR is reaching crisis point, with an expected annual death rate of ten million people worldwide by 2050. To reduce, and to potentially remedy this problem, many researchers are looking into natural compounds with antimicrobial and/or antivirulence activity. Manuka honey is an ancient antimicrobial remedy with a good track record against a wide range of nosocomial pathogens that have increased AMR. Its inhibitory effects are the result of its constituent components, which add varying degrees of antimicrobial efficacy to the overall activity of manuka honey. The antimicrobial efficacy of manuka honey and some of its constituent components (such as methylglyoxal and leptosperin) are known to bestow some degree of antimicrobial efficacy to manuka honey. Despite growing evidence of its antimicrobial efficacy, the use of manuka honey (especially in a clinical environment) has been unexpectedly slow, partly due to the lack of mechanistic data. The mechanism by which manuka honey achieves its inhibitory efficacy has recently been identified against and , with both of these contrasting organisms being inhibited through different mechanisms. Manuka honey inhibitsby interfering with the cell division process, whereas cells lyse in its presence due to the reduction of a key structural protein. In addition to these inhibitory effects, manuka honey is known to reduce virulence, motility, and biofilm formation. With this increasing dataset, we review the components and our mechanistic knowledge of manuka honey and how manuka honey could potentially be utilized in the future to impact positively on the treatment of microbial, resistant infections.
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HL Brown, M Reuter, LJ Salt, KL Cross, RP Betts, AHM van Vliet (2014). Chicken juice enhances surface attachment and biofilm formation of Campylobacter jejuni
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The bacterial pathogen is primarily transmitted via the consumption of contaminated foodstuffs, especially poultry meat. In food processing environments, is required to survive a multitude of stresses and requires the use of specific survival mechanisms, such as biofilms. An initial step in biofilm formation is bacterial attachment to a surface. Here, we investigated the effects of a chicken meat exudate (chicken juice) on  surface attachment and biofilm formation. Supplementation of brucella broth with ≥5% chicken juice resulted in increased biofilm formation on glass, polystyrene, and stainless steel surfaces with four isolates and oneisolate in both microaerobic and aerobic conditions. When incubated with chicken juice,  was both able to grow and form biofilms in static cultures in aerobic conditions. Electron microscopy showed that cells were associated with chicken juice particulates attached to the abiotic surface rather than the surface itself. This suggests that chicken juice contributes to  biofilm formation by covering and conditioning the abiotic surface and is a source of nutrients. Chicken juice was able to complement the reduction in biofilm formation of an aflagellated mutant of , indicating that chicken juice may support food chain transmission of isolates with lowered motility. We provide here a useful model for studying the interaction of biofilms in food chain-relevant conditions and also show a possible mechanism for  cell attachment and biofilm initiation on abiotic surfaces within the food chain.
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HL Brown, M Reuter, K Hanman, RP Betts, AHM van Vliet (2015). Prevention of biofilm formation and removal of existing biofilms by extracellular DNases of Campylobacter jejuni
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The fastidious nature of the foodborne bacterial pathogen  contrasts with its ability to survive in the food chain. The formation of biofilms, or the integration into existing biofilms by . , is thought to contribute to food chain survival. As extracellular DNA (eDNA) has previously been proposed to play a role in .  biofilms, we have investigated the role of extracellular DNases (eDNases) produced by .  in biofilm formation. A search of 2791 .  genomes highlighted that almost half of .  genomes contains at least one eDNase gene, but only a minority of isolates contains two or three of these eDNase genes, such as .  strain RM1221 which contains the , and eDNase genes. Strain RM1221 did not form biofilms, whereas the eDNase-negative strains NCTC 11168 and 81116 did. Incubation of pre-formed biofilms of NCTC 11168 with live . RM1221 or with spent medium from a RM1221 culture resulted in removal of the biofilm. Inactivation of the  eDNase gene in strain RM1221 restored biofilm formation, and made the mutant unable to degrade biofilms of strain NCTC 11168. Finally, .  strain RM1221 was able to degrade genomic DNA from .  NCTC 11168, 81116 and RM1221, whereas strain NCTC 11168 and the RM1221  mutant were unable to do so. This was mirrored by an absence of eDNA in overnight cultures of .  RM1221. This suggests that the activity of eDNases in .  affects biofilm formation and is not conducive to a biofilm lifestyle. These eDNases do however have a potential role in controlling biofilm formation by .  strains in food chain relevant environments.
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HL Brown, AHM Vliet, RP Betts, M Reuter (2013). Tetrazolium reduction allows assessment of biofilm formation by Campylobacter jejuni in a food matrix model
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To develop a staining method for specific detection of metabolically active (viable) cells in biofilms of the foodborne pathogen . Conversion of 2,3,5 triphenyltetrazolium chloride (TTC) to insoluble, red 1,3,5‐triphenylformazan (TPF) was dependent on metabolic activity of . When used with chicken juice, TTC staining allowed quantification of  biofilm levels, whereas the commonly used dye, crystal violet, gave high levels of nonspecific staining of food matrix components (chicken juice). The assay was optimized to allow for monitoring of biofilm levels and adapted to monitor levels of  in broth media. Staining with TTC allows for the quantification of metabolically active  and thus allows for quantification of viable cells in biofilms and food matrices. The TTC staining method can be adapted to quantify bacterial cell concentration in a food matrix model, where the accepted method of A600 measurement is not suitable due to interference by components of the food matrix. 2,3,5 Triphenyltetrazolium chloride (TTC) staining is a low‐cost technique suitable for use in biofilm analysis, allowing rapid and simple imaging of metabolically active cells and increasing the methods available for biofilm assessment and quantification.


Campylobacter jejuni

Methods and Results

Camp. jejuniCamp. jejuniCamp. jejuni


Camp. jejuni

Significance and Impact of the Study

Helen L Brown, Kate Hanman, Mark Reuter, Roy P Betts, Arnoud HM Van Vliet (2015). Campylobacter jejuni biofilms contain extracellular DNA and are sensitive to DNase I treatment
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Biofilms make an important contribution to survival and transmission of bacterial pathogens in the food chain. The human pathogen  is known to form biofilms  in food chain-relevant conditions, but the exact roles and composition of the extracellular matrix are still not clear. Extracellular DNA has been found in many bacterial biofilms and can be a major component of the extracellular matrix. Here we show that extracellular DNA is also an important component of the  biofilm when attached to stainless steel surfaces, in aerobic conditions and on conditioned surfaces. Degradation of extracellular DNA by exogenous addition of DNase I led to rapid biofilm removal, without loss of  viability. Following treatment of a surface with DNase I,  was unable to re-establish a biofilm population within 48 h. Similar results were obtained by digesting extracellular DNA with restriction enzymes, suggesting the need for high molecular weight DNA. Addition of  genomic DNA containing an antibiotic resistance marker resulted in transfer of the antibiotic resistance marker to susceptible cells in the biofilm, presumably by natural transformation. Taken together, this suggest that eDNA is not only an important component of  biofilms and subsequent food chain survival of , but may also contribute to the spread of antimicrobial resistance in . The degradation of extracellular DNA with enzymes such as DNase I is a rapid method to remove  biofilms, and is likely to potentiate the activity of antimicrobial treatments and thus synergistically aid disinfection treatments.
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Mark Reuter, Paula Maria Periago, Francis Mulholland, Helen Louise Brown, Arnoud HM Van Vliet (2015). A PAS domain-containing regulator controls flagella-flagella interactions in Campylobacter jejuni
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The bipolar flagella of the foodborne bacterial pathogen  confer motility, which is essential for virulence. The flagella of  are post-translationally modified, but how this process is controlled is not well understood. In this work, we have identified a novel PAS-domain containing regulatory system, which modulates flagella-flagella interactions in . Inactivation of the  gene, encoding a YheO-like PAS6 domain linked to a helix-turn-helix domain, resulted in the generation of a tightly associated “cell-train” morphotype, where up to four cells were connected by their flagella. The morphotype was fully motile, resistant to vortexing, accompanied by increased autoagglutination, and was not observed in aflagellated cells. The Δ mutant displayed increased expression of the adjacent Cj1388 protein, which comprises of a single endoribonuclease L-PSP domain. Comparative genomics showed that () orthologs in bacterial genomes are commonly linked to an adjacent  ortholog, with some bacteria, including , containing another -like gene (). Inactivation of the  and  genes resulted in decreased autoagglutination in Tween-20-supplemented media. The Δ and Δ mutants were also attenuated in a  larvae-based infection model. Finally, substituting the sole cysteine in Cj1388 for serine prevented Cj1388 dimerization in non-reducing conditions, and resulted in decreased autoagglutination in the presence of Tween-20. We hypothesize that Cj1388 and Cj0327 modulate post-translational modification of the flagella through yet unidentified mechanisms, and propose naming Cj1387 the Campylobacter Flagella Interaction Regulator CfiR, and the Cj1388 and Cj0327 protein as CfiP and CfiQ, respectively.
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Victoria L Marlow, Tristan MacLean, Helen Brown, Taryn B Kiley, Nicola R Stanley-Wall (2013). Blast a biofilm: a hands-on activity for school children and members of the public
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Microbial biofilms are very common in nature and have both detrimental and beneficial effects on everyday life. Practical and hands-on activities have been shown to achieve greater learning and engagement with science by young people. We describe an interactive activity, developed to introduce microbes and biofilms to school age children and members of the public. Biofilms are common in nature and, as the favored mode of growth for microbes, biofilms affect many parts of everyday life. This hands-on activity highlights the key concepts of biofilms by allowing participants to first build, then attempt to ‘blast,’ a biofilm, thus enabling the robust nature of biofilms to become apparent. We developed the blast-a-biofilm activity as part of our two-day Magnificent Microbes event, which took place at the Dundee Science Centre-Sensation in May 2010. This public engagement event was run by scientists from the Division of Molecular Microbiology at the University of Dundee. The purpose of the event was to use fun and interesting activities to make both children and adults think about how fascinating microbes are. Additionally, we aimed to develop interactive resources that could be used in future events and learning environments, of which the blast-a-biofilm activity is one such resource. Scientists and policy makers in the UK believe engaging the public with research ensures that the work of universities and research institutes is relevant to society and wider social concerns and can also help scientists actively contribute to positive social change. The activity is aimed at junior school age children (9–11 years) and adults with little or no knowledge of microbiology. The activity is suitable for use at science festivals, science clubs, and also in the classroom, where it can serve as a tool to enrich and enhance the school curriculum.