New antiparasitics to protect Australian livestock

This Earmarked Scholarship project is aligned with a recently awarded Category 1 research grant. It offers you the opportunity to work with leading researchers and contribute to large projects of national significance.

Supervisor - Professor Rob Caponr.capon@imb.uq.edu.au

Background: Nematodes, free-living worm-like organisms that include important animal parasites such as heart, lung, kidney, whip, round and hook worms, are a serious and growing problem for the livestock industry. For example, gastrointestinal tract nematodes such as Haemonchus contortus infect and compromise animal health, and reduce productivity among ruminants (i.e., sheep and cattle). Antiparasitics used to treat livestock can in principle cure an infected animal, however, the nematode life-cycle facilitates rapid re-infection of animals from infected pastures. Repeated "treat-reinfect" cycles drive resistance, the impact of which is further exacerbated by the slow rate of discovery of new antiparasitics. Currently the global livestock industry is hostage to the residual efficacy of a handful of aging, resistance compromised antiparasitics. As the world population grows and living standards rise, the demand for livestock products continues to surge. To meet these demands, and community expectations for the humane treatment of livestock, presents as an urgent case for discovering new classes of antiparasitic.

Hypothesis: As microbes in nematode infected sheep faeces and pastures are preyed on by the early (pre-infection) life stages of nematodes, this pressure provides an ideal environment for the evolution of natural chemical defences (i.e., new classes of antiparasitic), some of which are transcriptionally regulated by environmental chemical cues, including those released by nematodes. The study of transcriptionally regulated chemical defences in nematode-challenged microbes has the potential to deliver new and improved, next generation antiparasitics.

Aims:

  • To assemble a library of bacterial and fungal isolates from parasite infected pasture soils, sampled from sheep and cattle stations across Australia.
  • To use rapid miniaturised cultivation profiling (microbioreactors), inclusive of different media and culture conditions, with and without environmental/chemical cues, to stimulate the production of new and diverse natural product chemical defences.
  • To use high content chemical profiling (GNPS) to map and prioritize the chemical diversity, to fast-track the detection of rare from common, new from known, and high from low value chemistry.
  • To use antiparasitic profiling to detect and prioritise new microbial natural products exhibiting potent antiparasitic properties.
  • To use advance chemical and spectroscopic methods to solve the molecular structures of new microbial natural products.

Methodology: This project is highly multidisciplinary, ranging across organic, analytical, synthetic and natural products chemistry, as well as microbiology, pharmacology, molecular biology and chemical ecology. 

Support: This project is supported by a well-established collaboration with a global animal health company, Boehringer Ingelheim, and an ARC Linkage Project (commenced March 2021).

Outcomes: This project will reveal knowledge of natural chemical cues that activate transcription of silent microbial biosynthetic gene clusters that encode for new classes of natural product exhibiting promising antiparasitic properties. The project will use this knowledge to produce, isolate, characterise, identify and evaluate the chemical and biological properties, and commercial (antiparasitic) potential of these molecules.

Preferred educational background

Applications will be judged on a competitive basis taking into account the applicant's previous academic record, publication record, honours and awards, and employment history.

A working knowledge of organic chemistry would be of benefit to someone working on this project.

The applicant will demonstrate academic achievement in the field(s) of organic chemistry and the potential for scholastic success.

A background or knowledge of microbiology is highly desirable.

*The successful candidate must commence by Research Quarter 1, 2023. You should apply at least 3 months prior to the research quarter commencement date. International applicants may need to apply much earlier for visa reasons.

Apply now