Menzies is investing and developing expertise in the emerging research area of genome sequencing.
In the past year, we took the lead in a number of national and international collaborative programs investigating the genomics of tropical pathogens, and host immune responses.
This has reinvigorated research into Chlamydia trachomatis, which causes trachoma, the main infectious cause of blindness.
In a recent discovery, a scientific collaboration revealed the global population structure of C.trachomatis. The study also confirmed important recent findings linking genes to persistent eye infections.
These findings will underpin better public health interventions for trachoma and sexually transmitted infections.
Another research highlight during the year was the discovery of a major genetic risk factor in immune responses, resulting in genetic susceptibility to rheumatic heart disease (RHD).
Researchers noted despite many people getting infected with Group A streptococci which can trigger RHD, only a small proportion of people – often within the same family - developed it.
A multi-disciplinary team of researchers, including Heather D’Antoine and Associate Professor Steve Tong from Menzies, performed detailed mapping of the human genome that determines immune responses.
They found the major genetic risk factor in Indigenous Australians was the variation at a specific point in the DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) chain which is important for immune responses.
These findings emphasised the need for stronger steps to reduce the incidence and transmission of streptococcal infections within affected households and communities.
The malaria parasite is a leading cause of illness and death in the regions to Australia’s north.
During the year, our malaria research team successfully described the complete gene sequence of two less common malaria types, Plasmodium malariae and Plasmodium ovale.
The isolates were collected from patients, including one returning from Africa, who presented to the Royal Darwin Hospital (RDH) for treatment.
The analysis highlights some key differences in these parasites that will inform future research on how they evade host immunity and potential drug targets.
A final research highlight was that whole genome sequences of 469 Burkholderia pseudomallei isolates from 30 countries, collected over 79 years, were used to explore the global spread of melioidosis.
The data confirmed Australia as the origin of the melioidosis bacterium, with spread from Australia to Southeast Asia calculated to have occurred during the last ice age, subsequently spreading to Africa, then most recently from Africa to the Americas.
Geographically-distinct gene variants were also identified for a minority of Australian and Southeast Asian isolates, with potential links to regional differences in the severity and clinical manifestations of melioidosis.