1. Using phage to control opportunistic pathogens in drinking water distribution systems

Lead supervisor: Dr Philip Bond, QAEHS and Advanced Water Management Centre, UQ

Other supervisors: Dr Karen Weynberg, School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, UQ

Contact: phil.bond@uq.edu.au or k.weynberg@uq.edu.au

 

Project description

The occurrence of opportunistic pathogens (OPs) in drinking water distribution systems (DWDS) has become an increasing problem, such that they are now considered to be the major cause of waterborne disease outbreaks. These OPs include bacteria of the genera Mycobacterium, Burkholderia, Pseudomonas, and Legionella. Alarmingly, the incidence of disease caused by these OPs is increasing, and outbreaks are of considerable concern to health care facilities where mortality rates can be high in nosocomial settings. Recently it has become clear that persistent biofilms present in the pipes of the DWDS are the source of these OPs. These biofilms are particularly resistant to disinfectant treatments that are applied to DWDS. As an alternative there is opportunity to use phage therapy (use of viruses to kill bacteria) to eliminate OPs from these persistent biofilms.

This project will develop phage-therapy for the removal of OPs from DWDS. This will involve isolating and characterising OP infecting phage from various environments. Phage will be characterised and those with high killing potentials will selected. Synthetic biology approaches will be incorporated to engineer phage with enhanced capabilities. One significant technology in this approach is to engineer the phage with CRISPR-Cas systems as a convenient and efficient method to disrupt specific bacterial function. Through the project the PhD student will gain experience in viral/bacterial systems, advanced molecular manipulation and engineering processes, and in the issues of drinking water supply. The project will be achieved through collaboration with a CSIRO synthetic biology project.

Preferred educational background: Undergraduate Class I or IIA honours or Masters degree in Environmental Microbiology, with a strong background in environmental chemistry and a keen interest in environmental contaminant fate and exposure assessment.

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2. The interaction between non-antibiotic pharmaceuticals and antibiotic resistance

Lead supervisor: Dr Jianhua Guo, Advanced Water Management Centre, UQ

Other supervisors: Dr Philip Bond, QAEHS and Advanced Water Management Centre, UQ

Contact: j.guo@awmc.uq.edu.au

 

Project description

Antibiotic resistance has posed major threat to public health and ecological environments. Our common understanding is that overuse and misuse of antibiotics is considered the major factor contributing to the spread of antibiotic resistance. Surprisingly, elevated levels of antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB) and antibiotic resistance gens (ARGs) are detected in environments where no antibiotic is used, and occurrences of ARGs have been detected in some residential areas higher than those in hospital wastewater. Therefore, we wonder whether non-antibiotic pharmaceuticals are playing roles on the spread of antibiotic resistance in environments. This project aims to better understand the potential roles of non-antibiotic pharmaceuticals on the dissemination of antibiotic resistance.

The study will involve a series phenotypic experiments (such as bacterial culturing, cell membrane permeability, reactive oxygen species (ROS) generation) and molecular analyses (such as DNA and RNA sequencing and proteomics analysis). The findings from the project would enhance or change our understandings towards the dissemination of antibiotic resistance enhanced by non-antibiotic pharmaceuticals, as well as the relevant risk assessment and control methods. Through this project the PhD student will gain experience in state-of-the-art environmental microbiology and molecular biological techniques, as well as theoretical and practical experience in fighting against the spread of antibiotic resistance.

Preferred educational background: Undergraduate Class I or IIA honours or Masters degree in Environmental Microbiology, Environmental Science or Engineering, and Environmental Biotechnology, or similar.

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