Renowned koala research team joins USC

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Renowned koala research team joins USC


Published on 12 February 2014

Two internationally renowned microbiology researchers at the forefront of Australia’s scientific fight against diseases such as chlamydia in humans and animals have joined the University of the Sunshine Coast.

Professor of Microbiology Peter Timms, of Buddina, and Senior Research Fellow Dr Adam Polkinghorne, of Zillmere, started on campus at USC last month.

USC Pro Vice-Chancellor of Research, Professor Roland De Marco said the researchers were known for excellence in microbiology, especially regarding the chlamydia bacterium and iconic species such as koalas.

“Peter and Adam are bringing over $1 million in national research funding to our University, along with a team of up to six researchers initially and extensive links with local, national and international partners,” Professor De Marco said.

Professor Timms and Dr Polkinghorne were previously at Queensland University of Technology, where they were key members of a world-first genome mapping project that uncovered vital information about koala genes.

The data included the koala IFN-g gene, which affects the marsupial’s immune defences against cancer, viruses and bacteria.

Their multi-million-dollar projects will now operate from USC, with one of the major goals to develop chlamydia vaccines for humans and koalas.

Professor Timms, a molecular microbiologist for more than 20 years and a Fellow of the Australian Society for Microbiology, said USC offered opportunities to expand his team’s projects across diverse research areas, from biomedicine to veterinary health.

“This fits with our belief in the global ‘One Health’ initiative, which promotes collaborative, multi-disciplinary health research involving humans, animals and the environment,” he said.

“We have established partnerships with local hospitals, health clinics, wildlife hospitals and other organisations, as well as partners interstate and particularly overseas.

“We’re currently trialling a vaccine in a wild koala population in southeast Queensland. This will be the second year of a two-year field trial.”

Koalas are a protected species and were listed by the Australian Government in 2012 as vulnerable in Queensland. Diseases such as chlamydia are responsible for significant numbers of koala deaths.

Dr Polkinghorne, 36, will be continuing at USC the work that recently earned him a Queensland Young Tall Poppy Science Award from the Australian Institute of Policy and Science.

The award was presented for his research into marsupial immunology and his science engagement activities, which has included visiting schools and seniors groups to talk about his field.

Dr Polkinghorne, who studied and worked in Switzerland for six years with the University of Zurich’s Institute of Veterinary Pathology, said he was examining the biology of koalas and how they respond to chlamydia.

“In this way, what we can learn about chlamydia in koalas will help us understand the human diseases caused by this bacteria too,” he said.

“I’m also looking at the relationship between chlamydia in koalas and chlamydia in Australian livestock, since there may be a link there that will help us to improve the management of these diseases in both groups of animals.”

Julie Schomberg

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