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    Postgraduate research highlights healthcare and agricultural impact

    Friday, July 22, 2022

    Lab Supply was a sponsor at the recently held Microbiology and Immunology Postgraduate Symposium at the University of Otago.

    Presenting to fellow students and supervisors, the forum was an opportunity for students to grow as researchers and upskill in communicating their research to interdisciplinary audiences, while receiving valuable feedback from their peers.

    The top three speakers were awarded prizes, sponsored by Lab Supply.

    Natalie Waller, Caitlan Smart, and Francesca Hills were recognised for their overall presentation skills and awarded first, second and third place, respectively.

    Natalie Waller: The evolution of antibiotic resistance associated with collateral drug phenotypes in Mycobacterium tuberculosis

    Natalie presented on drug resistance in Mycobacterium tuberculosis, a pathogen that kills over a million people a year.

    She explained how the development of drug resistance is normally associated with a change in phenotype, sometimes resulting in increased sensitivity to other antibiotics. By understanding these changes, suggestions can be made for treatment regimens that can efficiently and selectively clear the drug-resistant population.

    “I hope that my research can improve current treatments to be shorter and more effective, prevent further emergence of drug-resistant strains, and ultimately reduce the number of tuberculosis fatalities each year,” said Natalie.

    Caitlan Smart: Mezorhizobium SyrA - a symbiotically-regulated repressive of polysaccharide synthesis

    Caitlan’s research is focused on understanding the genetics involved in the nitrogen-fixing symbiosis between rhizobia and legumes, using the Mesorhizobium-Lotus symbiosis as a model. Legumes, a significant food source for human and animal consumption, also play an important role soil replenishment through crop rotation.

    Rhizobium-legume symbioses are essential for the growth and productivity of many agriculturally important legume species. These symbioses are established through the exchange of complex signalling molecules, such as exopolysaccharide (EPS).

    “The aim of my research is to learn what genes are involved in the regulation of EPS production in Mesorhizobium, how these genes impact the effectiveness of the symbiosis and how they may determine the host range of different Mesorhizobium species,” said Caitlan.

    Francesca Hills: Coronaviruses and why you should still care

    SARS-CoV-2 is a major global health risk that emerged from a zoonotic source. Francesca’s research focuses on examining the structure and evolution of the spike protein (the mediator of viral entry) originating from a diverse range of host species.

    “We aim to produce novel structures of these spike proteins through Cryo-Electron Microscopy, as well as using this structural knowledge to investigate highly conserved regions to better understand Coronaviridae evolution”, says Francesca.

    While many human-targeted spike proteins have been characterised, far less is known about the structure and evolution of spike proteins originating from other species. This gap in research knowledge is troubling, as cross-species transmission of coronaviruses has been frequently documented. 

    “By filling in this gap we hope to identify broadly conserved sites for long-lasting, broad-spectrum treatments as well as contribute to evolutionary knowledge which may help predict the potential for future cross-species transmission from animal hosts.”


    From L-R: Francesca Hills, Natalie Waller and Caitlan Smart

    Congratulations Natalie, Caitlan and Francesa! We wish you the best as you progress in your careers!