Donna MacCallum

out at the second vote!!!

Favourite Thing: I like to find out why things happen and how things happen, especially things that no-one else has reported before. I also love capturing images of some of the beautiful things that I see down the microscope; different shapes of fungal cells that have been found in infected tissues or cells that have been grown under different lab conditions. I then like to show the images to as many people as possible and try to make them love them too.



Mackie Academy, Stonehaven (1986-1990)


1990-1994 University of Aberdeen BSc (hons) Genetics; 1994-1998 University of Aberdeen PhD (Microbiology)

Work History:

My first job after getting my PhD was as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Aberdeen working on immunology. I then worked for 10 years as a postdoctoral research fellow with one of the great names in fungal infection (again at the University of Aberdeen). During this time I was able to co-write grant applications, and I am now my own boss running my own research projects.


School of Medical Sciences, University of Aberdeen

Current Job:

Research Fellow

Me and my work

How do fungi cause disease?

My work focuses on finding out how medically important fungi cause infection and disease. Fungi can cause irritating infections like Athlete’s foot or thrush, but in some patients also cause life-threatening disease myimage1.

In my work, we investigate various properties of fungi to see if they are involved in the ability of the fungus to cause disease. This involves knocking out genes and analysing differences in behaviour. In addition, we are also able to look at how the host behaves during development of disease. We can analyse both the host immune response or we can analyse changes in host gene expression during development of disease. This has become easier with sequencing of host genomes, as we can now analyse gene expression across the whole genome by DNA microarray analysis – very cool!!!!!

I especially enjoy my work because you get to travel the world to attend conferences and speak about your work! In the last two years, I have attended conferences in Tokyo (Japan) and Miami (USA), as well as various conferences in the UK myimage4.

My Typical Day

What’s a typical day?

This is one of the things that I love about my job… there is no such thing as a typical day. Some days I will be in the lab all day (bliss!) and other days I may be stuck in front of a computer writing scientific papers, dealing with administration, writing grant applications or even analysing data. Other days I’ll also be teaching undergraduate or postgraduate students – this can be small group teaching, lectures or practical classes. The days when I can teach and work in the lab are some of my favourite days.

What I'd do with the money

I’d use the money to keep enthusing children about science, particularly microbiology.

I carry out a workshop with nursery age kids to demonstrate the importance of hand washing and to show how germs are spread. We use a special UV-powder and cream that shows up under UV or black-light (very CSI!). The kids smear the cream on their hands, or pass around an object covered in the powder, and then can detect the presence of the microbes with the special light. The young kids really love it (me too!). I’d really like to buy more kit, as children aged 3-5 all want to be in control of the light.
I have also bought some of the cuddly giant microbes ( to illustrate what microbes look like, and there’s a few more that would definitely add to my collection. The children look at the bugs that I’ve got, and then draw their own versions of what they think bacteria look like. This is really good fun!!

My Interview

How would you describe yourself in 3 words?

cheerful, enthusiastic, hard-working

Who is your favourite singer or band?

Queen – who doesn’t love them? I also love anything from musicals and Meatloaf (a bit of a mixed bag).

What is the most fun thing you've done?

One of the most fun things that I’ve ever done has to be hurtling down a German mountain on the equivalent of a tea-tray on a metal track. Needless to say, all did not go as planned and my boyfriend (now my husband) tipped us off when he refused to apply the brakes!

If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!

1. I’d love to be able to spend more time with my little girl 2. I’d like to have more time in the lab doing experiments 3. I’d like everyone I know to be healthy and happy

What did you want to be after you left school?

I really wanted to be a vet, but didn’t get the grades for vet school

Were you ever in trouble at school?

I was pretty good at school, but there was this one incident at a school Christmas party when I was 13….

What's the best thing you've done as a scientist?

Our research group found that in bloodstream fungal infections the biological events that occur within the first 72 hours of infection actually determine whether or not the host will become seriously ill or not.

Tell us a joke.

What do you call a mushroom who buys everyone at the bar a drink? …a FUN GUY! Sad, I know.