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Global role for USC microbiologist

7 Sep 2017

A USC academic recognised internationally for her research on antibiotic-producing bacteria has been elected to lead an organisation responsible for preserving the world’s microorganism cultures.

Dr Ipek Kurtböke, a Senior Lecturer in Environmental Microbiology at USC, has begun a three-year term as president of the World Federation of Culture Collections (WFCC), whose global database contains information on almost 400,000 strains of microorganisms.

“As president, my key goals will be to protect endangered collections in far corners of the world, raise awareness about the importance of preserving microbial cultures, and work to secure the ethical use of these resources for biotechnology,” Dr Kurtböke said.

“The contribution of microorganisms to mankind though their metabolic activities is immense, from infectious disease medicines and therapeutic drugs to food production.

“Only through the preservation of strains of bacteria, fungal and archaea species is their use in science and technology ensured for future generations.”

Dr Kurtböke is an international authority on rare actinomycetes, a group of bacteria that produces bioactive compounds including antibiotics and enzymes.

“Research with these fascinating microorganisms is my passion, and since 1982 I have worked with Europe’s leading actinomycetologists finding alternative ways to isolate rare actinomycetes to increase the possibilities of new and potent antibiotic discoveries.”

As part of her PhD research, she developed a novel isolation technique combining actinomycetes and bacteriophages, a type of virus that attacks bacteria.

The technique was adapted and applied by research institutions around the world and led to continuing research links with leading international pharmaceutical companies.

Dr Kurtböke previously served as vice-president of the WFCC, and is the second Australian to lead the federation since it was founded in 1970.

Her involvement in culture collections began in 1995 as a member of a team that established Australia’s largest natural resource library to search for new and potent drugs from Australian environments.

After taking up a position at USC in 2001, she established a microbial library at the University to assist researchers and students in the discovery of novel bioactive compounds and bacteriophages for the biological control of pathogens.

Dr Kurtböke said she was pleased to be able to incorporate her experience in industrially-linked research and processes into her teaching of applied microbiology and biotechnology.

“Teaching from a regional into a global context and observing the transformation of students’ learning and understanding gives me incredible happiness and satisfaction.”

 Clare McKay 

USC academic Dr Ipek Kurtboke

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