13 July 2009

Can bacteria be used to stop the spread of dengue? Is the era of useful antibiotics coming to an end? Could termites provide a solution to a more efficient biofuel industry?

These are just some of the questions to be considered at the first Microbes at UQ Symposium on July 14.

The free, all day event is open to the public and will run under the theme “Microbes at UQ: A one day symposium to celebrate the diversity of microbiology research at the University of Queensland”.

Professor Alastair McEwan, Head of the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, said research in microbiology was spread across many Schools, Centres and Institutes at UQ.

“The symposium provides a great opportunity for staff and students to meet, exchange ideas and collaborate,” he said.

“The research programme showcases some leading edge microbiological research that focuses on issues ranging from environmental sustainability to the control of infectious diseases”.

Keynote speaker Dr Phil Hugenholtz will be describing recent advances in the metagenomic analysis of the microbial communities within the termite hind-gut, following on from work published in Nature in 2007.

The stomachs of termites actually harbor a gold mine of microbes that have now been tapped as a rich source of enzymes for improving the conversion of wood or waste biomass to valuable biofuels. (View the video here)

A UQ Microbiology graduate, Dr Hugenholtz is currently the head of the microbial ecology group at the US Department of Energy Joint Genome Institute.

Head of UQ’s School of Biological Sciences, Professor Scott O'Neill will present his research on the use of the Wolbachia bacterium to infect mosquitoes, and disrupt dengue transmission to humans.

Professor O’Neill’s research is particularly important as Queensland faces its worst ever dengue fever outbreak.

Prof David Paterson – from UQ’s Centre for Clinical research – will focus on the spread of antibiotic resistance within bacteria.

Some in the scientific and medical community are predicting this could mean a return to the pre-antibiotic era, when there was little that could be to save a person from a bacterial infection.

Other speakers include:

• Associate Professor Andrew Barnes (Centre for Marine Studies) - Host-pathogen interactions in marine animals

• Dr Scott Beatson (School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences) - Using next-generation sequencing to investigate bacterial pathogenesis

• Associate Professor Roy Hall (School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences) - Emerging mosquito-borne viruses: challenges for the design of new vaccines, diagnostics and antivirals.

• UQ Adjunct Prof Mark Morrison (CSIRO Livestock Industries)- Plant biomass degradation by gut microbiomes: more of the same or something new?

• Associate Professor Mark Schembri (School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences) - Uropathogenic Escherichia coli: adhesins and biofilms

• Dr Kate Stacey (Institute for Molecular Bioscience)- DNA can be deadly: host defence against pathogen DNA

The symposium will be held on the UQ St Lucia campus from 9.30, with a BBQ lunch and evening drinks provided.

Media contact: Suzanne Philp, School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences (07 33653815 or s.philp1@uq.edu.au).