Confronting antibiotic resistance using microbial genomics technologies

With growing antibiotic resistance spreading through our communities, finding new ways to stop illness and death from Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA or golden staph) has become a significant challenge for health systems the world over. Understanding MRSA’s vulnerabilities, through knowledge of its genome, offers new technologies for researchers, and our microbial genomics experts are contributing to this work here in Melbourne.

We’ve started work with colleagues both at the Peter Doherty Institute (PDI) and Monash University on projects funded through the NHMRC and the Wellcome Trust. These projects confront the problem on several levels.

Announced in December 2017, Torsten Seemann is Chief Investigator on two NHMRC Project grants, led by Professor Tim Stinear, PDI. The first grant ($784,451) is investigating ways to modify a very well-studied, specific regulation gene in MRSA to find where it’s vulnerable to attack by antibiotics. This extends a decade of painstaking, detailed lab work and associated genomics and bioinformatics analysis which has built up our understanding of how this gene system works.

The second grant ($772,710) is investigating invasive staph, which is a particular threat to people living with compromised immune systems. It’s focussed on how and why golden staph spreads throughout hospitals and the community, looking at how such organisms behave in complex environments. This complements the work to understand the organisms’ basic biology as being targeted in the first project.

Professor Ben Howden, PDI, is leading an NHMRC Partnership Grant ($1,427,000) to work with the Victorian Government Department of Health and Human Services and sequencing company Illumina Australia Pty Ltd to develop microbial genomics for real-time tracking of communicable diseases for earlier detection of outbreaks. Our team will be leading the bioinformatics and data analysis component of this project which is studying the entire life cycle of a public health outbreak, seeing how to incorporate microbial genomics technologies to improve the timeliness of our responses and also improve the outcomes of public health bacterial management across hospitals, communities and in food safety.

Finally, Dr Dieter Bulach is an Associate Investigator, University of Melbourne, on a Wellcome Trust “Our Planet, Our Health” Project led by Professor Rebekah Brown from Monash University. Professor Jodie McVernon, Professor and Director of Doherty Epidemiology, Victorian Infectious Diseases Reference Laboratory will also be providing modelling / transmission analysis. We are very excited by this project as it will provide access to all the resources and on-site training available within the prestigious Wellcome Sanger Institute. Link here to the full story about this significant international project.

Feel free to contact our team leader and bacterial bioinformatics expert, A/Prof Torsten Seemann.