New research to identify antibiotic-resistant genes in the environment

Associate Professor Luis Pedro Coelho from QUT ‘s Centre for Microbiome Research at the School of Biomedical Sciences has received $510,187.65 from the National Health and Medical Research Council as part of the international Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance.

  • $.5M grant from NHMRC as part of the Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance.
  • Project aims to provide early warning system of antimicrobial resistance threats
  • Surveillance of emerging antibiotic resistant genes and their potential spread to pathogens

Professor Coelho’s research project is the Australian arm of the A$3.2M “SEARCHER Surveillance for emerging antimicrobial resistance through characterization of the uncharted environmental resistome”, which is an international consortium to develop an early warning system for emerging antimicrobial resistance threats.

He said antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is already a major healthcare challenge that, unless controlled, would cause millions of deaths and billions in healthcare costs per year in just a couple of decades.

“Currently, we cannot detect new forms of resistance, which hinders our efforts at prevention,” Professor Coelho said.

“This is a major issue because we rarely know which newly emerged forms of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) may become significant threats to human health until these antibiotic-resistant genes (ARGs) are already widespread in pathogenic bacteria.

“This makes it difficult to use surveillance to preventatively identify emerging risks.”

The project aims to characterize emergent ARGs in the environment, so that they can be included in AMR surveillance and detection before they become clinical problems.

“To achieve this, we will:

  • Develop computational methods to determine the mobility of novel ARGs and their potential for transfer to pathogens
  • Develop computational, artificial intelligence-based approaches to find early warning indicators for emerging ARGs
  • Sample locations at the interface of humans, animals and the environment using state-of-the-art approaches such as long-read and functional metagenomics
  • Provide resources for the integration of emerging ARGs into routine AMR surveillance.
  • Improve monitoring protocols for AMR so that they can be quickly updated with novel ARGs

“By assessing the spread and risks of antimicrobial resistance, we can develop a surveillance system to prevent their transmission to disease-causing bacteria to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics and protect human health,” Professor Coelho said.

The project will employ a postdoctoral researcher and a graduate student and work with groups in Sweden, Germany, France, Pakistan, and Nigeria.

Professor Coelho from QUT School of Biomedical Sciences was awarded an ARC Future Fellowship worth $979,500 earlier this year.

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