UTS Science dominates Australian Research Council Grants
The ARC Linkage program brings university researchers and industry partners together to work on impact-driven research projects.
Of the $2.8 million allocated to UTS in this round, $1.6 million will fund the projects of UTS Science’s professors and team leaders Steven Djordjevic, Peter Ralph, Derek Eamus and Jonathan Webb.
Professor Steven Djordjevic, Professor of Infectious Diseases in the ithree Institute, has received a $520,683 grant for his project ‘Improved biosecurity through the engineering of microbial ecosystems.’
The project seeks to understand how microbial populations in the gut of pigs respond to various challenges, including an assault by an antibiotic and two different probiotic formulations.
In addition, it will investigate how different E. coli populations colonise different regions of the gut of pigs.
According to Professor Djordevic, analysing the effect these antibiotics have on pigs could lead to breakthrough findings in the area of human health.
“We will characterise the potential threat porcine E. coli pose for human health and determine the types of antibiotic resistance and virulence genes they carry,” he said. “We will also determine how antibiotic resistance genes are assembled in the E. coli populations on mobile elements and how they move around.”
For this project, Professor Djordjevic has partnered with the NSW Department of Primary Industries, who will provide patented probiotic formulations to be evaluated in the grant.
The next grant was awarded to Professor Peter Ralph, Executive Director of The Plant Functional Biology and Climate Change Cluster.
Professor Ralph has received $372,000 funding over three years for his project ‘New photobioreactor to up-scale axenic cultures of microalgae,’ which will be completed in collaboration with GE Healthcare Australia.
The project aims to deliver a photobioreactor for the large-scale axenic culture of microalgae, in order to close the technology gap for research and development in the Australian algae biotechnology sector.
“Algae are the most promising long-term sustainable and cost-effective sources of biomass, oil for fuels, food, feed and active bio-product,” Professor Ralph said. “This research will contribute to the national innovation system by growing the emerging algae biotechnology sector in Australia, and at the same time, advancing knowledge of coral bleaching to safeguard Australia’s coral reefs.”
Plant physiologist and ecophysiologist Professor Derek Eamus earned the third grant, with the ARC granting him $371,558 over 3 years for his project ‘Impacts of groundwater extraction on ecophysiology of Australian trees.’
In response to over-extraction of groundwater, the project aims to develop a real-time indicator for groundwater managers that will inform them when to stop pumping.
With 40% of the world being arid or semi-arid and 40% of the world’s population living in these regions, groundwater is an important source of water for drinking and irrigation.
“Groundwater dependent ecosystems provide many services that are valuable to humans and to the ecological health of landscapes,” Professor Eamus said. “Badly managed extraction of groundwater can severely damage these ecosystems.”
Groundwater extractors Hunter Water and Midcoast Water will provide site access, cash and staff to support the project while government regulator NSW Office of Water will provide expertise and in-kind support.
Finally, wildlife ecologist Dr Jonathan Webb was allocated $337,775 over four years for his project ‘Preventing and reversing population declines of northern quolls.’
The project aims to develop innovative ways to prevent and reverse population declines of an iconic Australian predator, the northern quoll.
“This species was once widespread across northern Australia, but is facing imminent extinction in the Kimberley due to the spread of toxic cane toads,” Professor Webb said.
The project will be undertaken in two parts, the first of which involves the introduction of “toad smart” quolls to Kakadu National Park and the second of which involves training wild quolls to avoid cane toads prior to the toads invading the east Kimberley.
According to Dr Webb, the project will put UTS on the map for developing a novel solution to a major environmental issue.
“Rather than trying to eradicate an invasive species, we’re using conditioned taste aversion to modify the behaviour of the predator.”
Professor Webb will collaborate with Territory Wildlife Park, Kakadu National Park, Department of Land Resource Management and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.
We congratulate the professors on their achievements and look forward to hearing about the developments in their projects.