Dr Delia O’Rourke

Stipendiary Lecturer in Biochemistry

BSc, PhD

Delia received both her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry (1987) and PhD (in Herpes Simplex Virus Gene Regulation, 1995) from the University of London. Following a postdoctoral research fellowship in the Department of Genetics, Harvard she took a postdoctoral position in the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, Oxford in 1997. Since 2000 she has worked with Jonathan Hodgkin as a Research Associate in the Department of Biochemistry.

Undergraduate teaching 

Delia has been teaching Hertford Biochemistry and Human Science undergraduates in Molecular Cell Biology, Genetics and Developmental Biology since 2012. She also supervises Biochemistry “Part II” students’ research projects.


The nematode C. elegans (“the worm”) is an important model organism used to dissect the mechanisms of many fundamental biological processes. It is particularly relevant to the analysis of host: pathogen interactions because many important human pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Vibrio cholerae will infect and kill C. elegans.

Delia’s research uses genetics, biochemistry and genomics to investigate how the worm defends itself against the bacterial infections it encounters in its natural environment, including the gram-positive Microbacterium nematophilum and Leucobacter Verde strains. These bacteria attach to the surface of the worm and induce a protective inflammation-like response. She has characterised the genomic response of C.elegans to bacterial infection (O’Rourke et al 2006) identifying many defence genes (invertebrate lysozymes, C-type lectins etc) and is currently exploring the roles of these genes in nematode immunity.

Genetic screens for worms that are resistant to bacterial infection have led to the identification of many genes involved in the synthesis of the worm surface (Gravato-Nobre et al 2011). However we still know relatively little about its molecular components. Therefore Delia is complementing genetic approaches with proteomics, lipidomics and mass spectrometry to make a biochemical dissection of the surface of both C.elegans and parasitic nematodes. Parasitic nematode infections have a major impact on human health through both direct infections and agricultural loss due to crop and domesticated animal disease. 

Other areas of research interest include hypoxia (Bishop et al 2004) and control of gene expression (O’Rourke et al 2006).


Gravato-Nobre MJ , Stroud D, O’Rourke D, Darby C, Hodgkin J (2011) Glycosylation genes expressed in seam cells determine complex surface properties and bacterial adhesion to the cuticle of Caenorhabditis elegans. Genetics 187(1):141-55

O'Rourke D, Baban D, Demidova M, Mott R, Hodgkin J. (2006) Genomic clusters, putative pathogen recognition molecules, and antimicrobial genes are induced by infection of C. elegans with M. nematophilum. Genome Res. 16(8):1005-16.

Gravato-Nobre MJ, Nicholas HR, Nijland R, O'Rourke D, Whittington DE, Yook KJ, Hodgkin J.(2005) Multiple genes affect sensitivity of C. elegans to the bacterial pathogen M. nematophilum. Genetics. 171(3):1033-45

Bishop T, Lau KW, Epstein AC, Kim SK, Jiang M, O'Rourke D, Pugh CW, Gleadle JM, Taylor MS, Hodgkin J, Radcliff PJ. (2004) Genetic analysis of pathways regulated by the von Hippel-Lindau tumor suppressor in Caenorhabditis elegans. PLoS Biol. 2(10): e289.

Izeta A, Malcomber S, O’Rourke D, Hodgkin J, O’Hare P (2003) A C-terminal targeting signal controls differential compartmentalisation of C.elegans host cell factor (HCF). Eur J Cell Biol.82(10):495-504.

Gibbons RJ, McDowell TL, Raman S, O'Rourke DM, Garrick D, Ayyub H, Higgs DR. (2000) Mutations in ATRX, encoding a SWI/SNF-like protein, cause diverse changes in the pattern of DNA methylation. Nat Genet. 24(4):368-71.

McDowell TL, Gibbons RJ, Sutherland H, O'Rourke DM, Bickmore WA, Pombo A, Turley H, Gatter K, Picketts DJ, Buckle VJ, Chapman L, Rhodes D, Higgs DR. (1999) Localization of a putative transcriptional regulator (ATRX) at pericentromeric heterochromatin and the short arms of acrocentric chromosomes. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 96(24):13983-8

O'Rourke D, Elliott G, Papworth M, Everett R, O'Hare P. (1998) Examination of determinants for intranuclear localization and transactivation within the RING finger of herpes simplex virus type 1 IE110k protein. J Gen Virol. ;79 ( Pt 3):537-48.

Everett R, O'Hare P, O'Rourke D, Barlow P, Orr A. (1995) Point mutations in the herpes simplex virus type 1 Vmw110 RING finger helix affect activation of gene expression, viral growth, and interaction with PML-containing nuclear structures. 
J Virol. 69(11):7339-44.

O'Rourke D, O'Hare P. (1993) Mutually exclusive binding of two cellular factors within a critical promoter region of the gene for the IE110k protein of herpes simplex virus.
 J Virol. 67(12):7201-14.

Stewart GS, Dovey S, O'Rourke DM. (1988) A rapid method for site directed mutagenesis of plasmid DNA. Biotechniques. 6(6):511-2, 517-8