Pseudomonas aeruginosa alternate lifestyles: opportunities for exploitation

Prof. Cynthia Whitchurch, PhD, “Bacterial Lifestyles” Research Group Leader, Microbial Imaging Facility Academic Leader, The ithree institute, University of Technology, Sydney

A major contributor to the ability of pathogenic bacteria to resist the actions of antibiotics and host immune defenses is their ability to transition between different lifestyles. Examples include matrix-encased biofilms; self-organised collective behaviours that lead to rapid biofilm expansion; and morphotype transitions. We have identified several novel phenomena that account for the production of public goods in bacterial biofilms, explain how bacteria self-organise complex collective behaviours and how P. aeruginosa survives and proliferates in the presence of high concentrations of ß-lactam antibiotics. We are currently exploring opportunities to exploit this new knowledge of bacterial lifestyles to develop innovative approaches to control infection.

Professor Cynthia Whitchurch’s research focuses on understanding the contributions and interplay of alternative bacterial lifestyles to infection and persistence and to exploit this knowledge to develop innovative approaches to combat infection.  She has investigated various aspects of bacterial pathogenesis and biofilms for over 25 years and has held NHMRC Career Development and Senior Research Fellowships. She was awarded the prestigious 2016 David Syme Research Prize for best original research in biology in Australia during the preceding 2 years- one of only a handful of women to be awarded the prize and the first in over 30 years. She obtained her BSc (Hons I) in 1989 and her PhD in 1994 from the University of Queensland and undertook postdoctoral research at the University of Queensland and the University of California San Francisco. In 2004 she established her own research group in the Department of Microbiology at Monash University and in 2008 was recruited to the University of Technology Sydney where she currently leads a research team in the ithree institute and where she also established the Microbial Imaging Facility.