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Understanding bacteria, viruses, and parasites

Centre for Free Radical Research

Free radicals website microscopic thumbnailWe have a well-established programme investigating the biology of neutrophils and their production of the reactive oxygen species such as superoxide, hydrogen peroxide, hypochlorous acid, chloramines and hypothiocyanous acid. We are particularly interested in how pathogenic bacteria are able to protect themselves from these oxidants, and how the oxidants influence the function of host cells.

Potential applications include the development of compounds that (1) sensitise pathogens to oxidative stress, (2) act as biomarkers of oxidative stress that indicate neutrophil stimulation during infection e.g. pneumonia or inflammatory disease e.g. cystic fibrosis, inflammatory bowel disease, and (3) inhibit myeloperoxidase thereby limiting oxidant production and host damage during inflammation.

Email mark.hampton@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/free-radical

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Department of Biochemistry

Stylised graphic of DNA with bonded structures thumbnail

Our research groups use a variety of approaches to understand how disease occurs, including molecular genetics and bioinformatics, protein structural biology and cell biology techniques.

We study the infectious agents behind a range of diseases:

  • Associate Professor Russell Poulter - retroviruses, yeast Cryptococcus neoformans, the kiwifruit pathogen Pseudomonas syringae
  • Professor Kurt Krause - The structural biology of infectious diseases, particularly targets from Mycobacterium tuberculosis, including enzymes involved in bacterial cell wall synthesis, like alanine racemase and glutamate racemase, and from poxviruses including immunomodulating factors such as chemokine binding proteins
  • Professor Iain Lamont - Pseudomonas aeruginosa bacteria, which cause lung infections in patients with cystic fibrosis
  • Dr Chris Brown - viruses including hepatitis B

Please visit the Department of Biochemistry's research pages to find out more:
Biochemistry research at Otago: Genetic and molecular basis of disease

Our staff also belong to wider topic-based research centres and themes in the University.

Email biochemistry@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/biochemistry/research

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology

Graphic image of bacteria thumbnailPlease visit our Research Overview page for the specific research interests and expertise of our staff who work in the disciplines listed.

Immunology

Our department hosts a community of research groups involved in the study of a wide range of topics, from fundamental immunology and applied research on clinical and veterinary biomarkers through to vaccine development. Our research staff and students are experts in immunology, cell biology, blood and lymphatic systems.

Infectious disease-related work:

Microbiology

Our internationally recognized researchers and their teams are investigating areas central to microbiology, both fundamental and applied. Diverse techniques spanning genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry are used to understand the environmental role of microbes, host-microbe interactions that underpin both beneficial and disease processes in plants and animals, and to develop new biotechnologies.

Infectious disease-related work:

Parasitology

Our laboratory focuses on the biology of the parasite Plasmodium vivax (the cause of vivax malaria) and how we can kill it using therapeutics or vaccinations. In addition to vivax malaria we also investigate the biology and epidemiology of protozoal parasites of importance to human health in New Zealand.

Virology

We have a vibrant virology community undertaking both basic and applied virology. Understanding virus-host interactions, engineering vaccines, the discovery of virus-derived bioactive molecules and identification of targets for antivirals are all key research areas. Our successful and active virology groups are supported by a collegial approach to research that benefits both staff and students.

Infectious-disease-related research collaborations

Research staff of the department collaborate with many other University of Otago researchers in the form of research themes or centres:

Email microbiology@otago.ac.nz
Web micro.otago.ac.nz/research/research-overview/

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Department of Pathology

Graphic of linked molecular bodies thumbnailFocused on excellence in both research and teaching, the Department of Pathology is dedicated to investigating the cause of human disease, to applying our knowledge to improve the treatment of patients, and to share that knowledge with others.

Human Papillomavirus (HPV)

The Hibma Laboratory, within the Department of Pathology, is aiming to better understand the biology of human papillomavirus (HPV), particularly the interplay between the virus and the host immune system.

Cervical cancer is caused by infection with high-risk, cancer-causing types of HPV. HPV is also associated with around 30% of head and neck cancers, and may contribute to cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma.

Email merilyn.hibma@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/dsm-pathology/research/hibma-laboratory.html

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology

Orange DNA graphic thumbnailState-of-the-art technologies, including the use of in-vivo disease models, are used to undertake integrative, cellular and molecular investigations aimed at understanding animal and human pathophysiology (and to delineate targets for novel drugs).

Wound healing and virology

Dr Lyn Wise trained as a molecular virologist and was a key researcher in the functional characterisation of the viral family of vascular endothelial growth factors and a range of anti-inflammatory factors encoded by the parapoxviruses.

Her research currently focuses on microbial manipulation of the inflammatory, vascular and wound healing responses in the skin, and the use of bio-therapeutics for skin wounds, infections and inflammatory disorders.

Email lyn.wise@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/phal/people/profile/index.html?id=307

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Genetics Otago

Model of DNA thumbnailGenetics Otago is the largest centre for advanced genetics research in Australasia, with researchers and facilities covering the full spectrum of genetics research. In relation to infectious diseases our research includes:

  • Applied genetics research
    Our researchers are at the forefront of selecting and producing new traits for biologically-based industries. These industries are the backbone of the New Zealand economy.
  • Developmental genetics research
    We study genes and development in numerous vertebrates and invertebrates. We work to identify genes associated with human developmental disease, and on epigenetics, and human and plant biology.
  • Microbial research
    Our researchers study the biology of these organisms, including how viruses interact with other organisms and the immune system, and how they might be harnessed to deliver health benefits.

Email go@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/genetics/research/

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Genomics Aotearoa

Genomics Aotearoa link logo thumbGenomics Aotearoa is an agile, leading-edge and collaborative platform, established to ensure that New Zealand is internationally participating and leading in the rapidly developing fields of genomics (the study of the genome, the complete set of genetic material present in a cell or organism) and bioinformatics (the development of methods and software tools for understanding the biological data derived from genomics).

Genomics Aotearoa is an alliance of nine partners:

  • Universities - Auckland, Massey, Otago, Victoria, Waikato
  • Crown Research Institutes - AgResearch, ESR, Landcare Research, Plant & Food

It also has over 30 associates - organisations that are researchers or end users of genomics and bioinformatics.

Email genomics.aotearoa@otago.ac.nz
Web www.genomics-aotearoa.org.nz

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Microbiome Otago

Microbacteria thumbnailMicrobiome Otago is a leader of research on the microscopic inhabitants of the human body and their impact on health and disease. This highly topical research area has the potential to transform our understanding of how coexistence with trillions of microbial beings affects our lives.

Hosted by the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Microbiome Otago is a multidisciplinary research collaboration of 38 scientific and clinical researchers spanning a diversity of disciplines and institutes in New Zealand and overseas.

Our research includes:

  • Probiotics and the gut microbiome
  • Weaning foods and the gut microbiome.
  • Inflammatory bowel diseases and the gut microbiome
  • Obesity and the gut microbiome
  • Protozoan-mediated dysbiosis of the gut microbiome

Email gerald.tannock@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/microbiome

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One Health Aotearoa

Hand reaching into a river thumbnailOne Health Aotearoa is an alliance of New Zealand’s leading infectious diseases researchers committed to working together to address important health hazards in New Zealand, and beyond.

A key lesson from recent infectious diseases outbreaks, including Ebola in West Africa, and efforts to control antimicrobial resistance, is that now, more than ever, we need to work across sectors, and reverse the trend towards increasing compartmentalization. Importantly, issues are addressed in a real-world context, with early involvement of key stakeholders and easier translation into policy.

Visit our website for more about our integrative approach to understanding, preventing, and controlling infectious diseases including:

Email: one.health@otago.ac.nz
Web: onehealth.org.nz

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Otago Genomics Facility

Genomics dna strand thumbnailWe provide expertise and sequencing resources to New Zealand researchers and industry including:

  • Project design and advice
  • Illumina HiSeq sequencing
  • Illumina MiSeq sequencing
  • Nanostring nCounter Analysis System

The Otago Genomics Facility is an Illumina Propel-certified service provider for Illumina HiSeq 2500 and MiSeq sequencing platforms, and is also a Nanostring nCounter Analysis System core facility.

Email genomics@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/genomics

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Otago Global Health Institute (OGHI)

Gambia village scene thumbnailWe aim to improve global health and save lives, by identifying and evaluating solutions to important health problems in low-resource settings.

We work to address the world's most pressing health problems through research collaborations with low- and middle-income countries, and with disadvantaged groups in New Zealand.

We draw upon New Zealand's unique connections with Asia and the Pacific. Our extensive international partnerships and cross-disciplinary collaborations enable us to carry out innovative and rigorous research to advance global health.

Visit OGHI Selected projects to read more about:

  • Collaborative fever etiology research in Southeast Asia
  • Concurrent Tuberculosis and Diabetes Mellitus (TANDEM) in Indonesia
  • Examining the impact of agricultural intensification on childhood growth in prehistoric SE Asia
  • Febrile illness, invasive bacterial disease, and antimicrobial resistance among inpatients in Myanmar
  • Hazards Associated with Zoonotic enteric pathogens in Emerging Livestock meat pathways (HAZEL)
  • Impact and social ecology of bacterial zoonoses in northern Tanzania
  • Implications for migration and trade on the presence of infectious and nutritional diseases in past populations in Asia
  • Invasive Salmonella infections in Africa
  • Investigating Febrile Deaths in Tanzania (INDITe)
  • Latent tuberculosis infection among health care workers
  • Molecular epidemiology of brucellosis in northern Tanzania
  • Severe typhoid in Tanzania (STT)
  • Social, Economic and Environmental Drivers of Zoonoses in Tanzania (SEEDZ)
  • Socioeconomic risk factors for childhood pneumonia in Basse, The Gambia
  • Typhoid Vaccine Acceleration Consortium (TyVAC)
  • Whole genome sequencing of drug-resistant Mycobacterium tuberculosis strains

Email jacqui.hadingham@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/global-health

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Otago Micro and Nanoscale Imaging (OMNI)

red connected spheres on ablue background thumbnailFour well-established and highly respected research-expertise providers have joined together under one umbrella to offer:

All the expertise, highly sophisticated instrumentation, and stellar support remains in place, as do the existing locations of services on our Dunedin campus.

The four units have collaborated on a new website as a central repository of their capabilities and achievements.

For all you need to know about what can be offered, who can help, what services, training, and specialist expertise and advice is available, please contact us.

Email charlene.gell@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/omni

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Sir John Walsh Research Institute (Oral health)

Fluorescent microscopic image of yeast cells thumbnailOur institute has two programme areas with research related to infectious diseases:

Clinical and translational research

We focus on studies of direct clinical relevance as well as the translation of basic research into clinical practice with the objective of delivering better and more efficient treatments including:

  • Manuka honey antibacterial action against childhood caries
  • Manuka honey and Manuka oil antibacterial action against periodontitus
  • Silver nano-particles as antibacterial agents
  • Prescription of systemic antibiotics by dental specialists
  • Cross-infection control practices in New Zealand dental practices

SJWRI 2015-16 Research Report extract: Clinical and Translational Research (PDF 127 KB)

Molecular microbiology

Oral microbes cause disease in a large proportion of our population. In the Molecular Microbiology programme we study how the diseases are caused and how we can prevent or overcome them. Our research includes:

  • Structure-directed antimicrobial discovery
  • Candida adherence and drug resistance
  • Oral bacteriology
  • Microbial profiling and bacterial genome sequencing

SJWRI 2015-16 Research Report extract: Molecular Microbiology Programme (PDF 169 KB):

Email sjwri.admin@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/sjwri/research

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Webster Centre for Infectious Diseases

Blue virus particles thumbnailOur scope extends from molecular to clinical research of infectious diseases affecting humans, animals, and plants.

We have over forty experts from across the university making fundamental discoveries and translating these discoveries into practical applications against infectious diseases.

Members of the Webster Centre use a variety of methods in their research, ranging from chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, bioinformatics, immunology and microbiology.

Key research:

Email webstercentre@otago.ac.nz
Web otago.ac.nz/webster

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