Visit our website
Visit the student run Environmental Microbiology website to see what our lab members get up to.
Lara Bereza-Malcolm (Doctorial Research Scientist): Synthetic Biology and Environmental Biosensors
Defence Science Institute (DSI) co-funded research project.
DSI co-supervisor: Dr Gulay Mann
Synthetic biology allows the design and construction of biological systems for specific tasks and purposes. Engineering of biological sensors, termed biosensors, is an area within synthetic biology that is currently gaining much attention. A biosensor is a “biological device” (such as a microorganism) that is designed to identify and report specific signals found in the surrounding environment.
My research will focus on the application of synthetic biology to create biosensor technology with an environmental focus. Biosensors will be designed and developed to detect environmentally dangerous contaminants and compounds in both terrestrial and aquatic settings. My investigations will focus on the improvement of previously designed standard biological parts used in construction of synthetic organisms, followed by the design and development of specific novel sensory components. These sensory parts will be combined to create biosensors tailored to detect specific contaminants and compounds of interest. Detection of a specific target will be integrated with a capability of the microorganisms to remediate and remove the contaminate from the environment.
The further development of synthetic biology is important as it allows novel and effective methods to be developed for application to environmental hazardous.
Lara speaks about her work on ABC Radio National's 'The Science Show' with Robyn Williams. Listen to podcast here.
Jen Wiltshire (Doctorial Research Scientist): Rhizosphere Ecology and Function for Heavy Metal Phytoremediation
Soils with elevated heavy metal concentrations occur naturally in many parts of the world. Increasingly human activities including agriculture, mining, and industry are leaving otherwise arable land contaminated with heavy metals. Heavy metals pose particular concerns as they are capable of leeching into water supplies, poisoning both plants and animals and change the indigenous microbial populations thus, methods for their efficient removal from the soil is paramount.
At the heart of my research is how microbes and their interactions in the rhizosphere can affect and increase the efficiency of potential of heavy metal hyperaccumulating plants that can be utilized as cost effective, environmentally friendly cleaning agents. The correct combinations of microbes and plants may restore heavy metal contaminated sites through a process known a phytoremediation. In particular, my research focuses on the rhizosphere of hyperaccumulators and the plant-microbe interactions that take place there. It is hypothesized that rhizosphere microbes, many of which themselves are heavy metal resistant, influence the ability of a plant to hyperaccumulate and are essential for the efficient functioning of the hyperaccumualting aerial tissues. My work incorporates ecological, chemical and biochemical approaches and collaborative research with Professor Tang’s group in the AgriBio building to elucidate the best methods and microbial considerations for optimal phytoremediation.
Jen speaks about her work on ABC Radio National's 'The Science Show' with Robyn Williams. Listen to podcast here.
Sanja Aracic (Research Assistant): Structure of Electric Biofilms
As part of an FSTE funded project in collaboration with Dr Vilma Stanisich, I am investigating the structure and function of electrode associated biofilms using Geobacter sulfurreducens as a model. These biofilms are of interest due to the potential of numerous novel applications including: biodegradation; bioremediation; synthesis of commodity chemicals; alternative energy; biological capacitors; as well as in electrically conductive biomaterials. In all these applications the formation of the biofilm is essential for the respective processes and has direct consequences to function. Biofilms formed by G. sulfurreducens are capable of interacting with an insoluble electron donors and acceptors, as well as transferring electrons over long distances.
The transfer of electrons over extended distances to an electrode occurs via the biofilm matrix. Studies have shown that c-type cytochromes and type IV pili are important factors in the biofilm matrix during the transfer and acceptance of electrons to and from an insoluble surface. This project will further investigate and characterise the structure and function of the G. sulfurreducens biofilm matrix to expand our knowledge and improve process efficiencies.
Rochelle Maile (4th Year Honours Research Student): Competition between electric Microbes
For my honours year project I am researching microbial competition in mixed species biofilms of microbial fuel cell. Bacteria in microbial fuel cells use energy conservation strategies that involve extra cellular transfer of electrons to or from electrodes and in some instances between species. Bacteria in the genus Geobacter are known to thrive in the environmental conditions present in fuel cells, often becoming the dominant species. Competition in mixed communities is a major determinant of both diversity and structure.
This study will investigate competition for substrates amongst the microbial fuel cell biofilm community using a variety of methods. Those being quantitative PCR, ARISA (Automated Ribosomal Intergenic Spacer Analysis), the use of FISH (Fluorescence In Situ Hybridization) and some multidimensional scaling. This research will provide basic research information regarding microbial interactions and lead to strategies for the improvement of a number of new biotechnologies.