Microbial diversity of soil bacteria and the development of novel culturing approaches for the hitherto uncultured majority
Field of Research (FoR)
I lead the single-cell microbiology lab in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, which combines innovative microcultivation methods with the latest in next generation sequencing technology to understand soil microbial biodiversity, particularly in Antarctica. The main focus of my research is to investigate the ecology of bacteria and fungi in Antarctic desert soils, specifically with respect to the effects...view more
I lead the single-cell microbiology lab in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, which combines innovative microcultivation methods with the latest in next generation sequencing technology to understand soil microbial biodiversity, particularly in Antarctica. The main focus of my research is to investigate the ecology of bacteria and fungi in Antarctic desert soils, specifically with respect to the effects of diesel fuel contamination on population dynamics and biogeochemical cycles.
- PhD in Microbiology (Macquarie University, 2001)
- Bsc (Hons) (University of New England, Armidale 1994)
My Research Goals
- To develop novel cultivation approaches for ‘yet-to-be’ cultured bacteria and fungi;
- Uncover the microbial diversity and functioning of soil microbes living in Antarctica;
- Characterisation of novel bacterial Divisions, including the Saccharibacteria, AD3 and WPS-2.
- Develop ecotoxicity tests for microbial communities and apply them to contaminated soils, with the aim of developing remediation targets for hydrocarbons
- To isolate and characterise cold-adapted hydrocarbon degrading fungi and bacteria.
My Research in Detail
My major interest is in the microbial diversity of uncultivated soil bacteria and the development of novel culturing approaches to recover this diversity in the lab. By integrating single-cell with next generation sequencing technologies my group is exploring the ecology of microbes in both pristine and contaminated soils.
My focus is currently Polar Science, and through collaboration with the Australian Antarctic Division, we are uncovering the diversity and novel functioning of microbes living in barren soils of Antarctica. This research is exciting as we recently discovered that in terrestrial Antarctica, bacteria are surviving by living on air. This finding, published in the journal Nature is now challenging our understanding of the nutritional limits required to support life. The question that remains is how widespread this new process is in Antarctica and other oligotrophic habitats globally.
I also have a specific interest in the eco-toxicology of petroleum hydrocarbons in eastern Antarctica and sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island; in this research we are not only developing site-specific remediation targets, but by isolating novel species from these extreme locations we are uncovering new bacteria and fungi, and consequently new metabolic pathways for hydrocarbon biodegradation.
Current Student Projects (PhD and Honours)
- Mapping the significance of trace gas chemosynthesis in soil - Angelique Ray, PhD
- How do microbial communities assemble in polar soils-Eden Zhang, PhD
- Eco-toxicology of residual fuels during bioremediation at Macquarie Island - Sally Crane, PhD
- Fungal degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons by cold adapted fungi - Chengdong Zhang, PhD
- Residual toxicity and bioremediation of Casey station, Antarctica - Sarita Pudasaini, PhD
- Uncovering the diversity of novel secondary metabolites in polar soils - Nicole Benaud, PhD
- Isolation and characterisation of Candidatus Dormibacteraeota (AD3) in Antarctic soil- Kate Montgomery, PhD
- Cell signalling in Antarctic soil bacteria- Sin Yin Wong, Honours
- Characterisation of Candidatus Eremiobacteraeota (WPS-2) using FISH- Lauren Williams, Honours
My interest is in polar microbiology and characterising novel species, genomes and bioactives. If you are interested in exploring soil microbes, in Australia or Antarctica, please come and speak with my team and I.
Advice for prospective students
For those students who are thinking about carrying out a research program at UNSW Australia, the most important piece of advice I can give you is to meet with potential supervisors and their teams at least once in person. This will help to ensure they are the right group of people for you.
TEACHING & OUTREACH
Courses I teach
Professional affiliations and service positions
- Panel member for Royal Society's Marsden Fund in New Zealand
- I am also a member of the UNSW Women in Research Network and the Network of Academic Women in BABS at UNSW Australia.
AWARDS & ACHIEVEMENTS
- ARC Future Fellowship 2017
- Dean's Carers Fellowship, UNSW Australia 2014
- Macquarie University Vice-Chancellors Innovation Fellowship 2008
- Australian Academy of Science Travel Award 2008