We study a diverse set of fungal species that include plant pathogens, human pathogens, classical models for understanding biology and anything ‘interesting’, and that collectively span a large part of the fungal tree of life. This research aims to prevent fungi from causing problems to humans and to find new treatment and management strategies, while addressing also the potential fungi have to enhance our lives, particularly from the context of how little is known about them.
As such, members in the group have research interests in diverse areas of fungal biology. Our priority areas of research in the past or currently are as follows.
(1) Diseases of oilseed Brassicas, in particular canola (Brassica napus). The main disease of canola, and the major focus of the research in the lab, is to combat the disease blackleg, caused by species in the genus Leptosphaeria such as L. maculans and L. biglobosa. This research is based upon considerable support from the Australian Grains Development and Research Corporation (GRDC). Blackleg is a serious problem in agriculture and also of research interest because of its complex interactions with Brassica species. We are involved in multi-agency programs of research that aim both to gain fundamental insights into how the Leptosphaeria species cause disease on Brassicas and paeticularly to provide recommendations to canola growers as to which cultivars and fungicide regimes are most effective down to a regional level. In addition to our focus on Australian blackleg problems, in the last five years we have assembled an international set of Leptosphaeria isolates to help combat canola diseases globally.
(2) Discovery of pathogenicity factors, mechanisms of virulence and antifungal drug targets in the human pathogenic Cryptococcus species. Within the Cryptococcus genus, there is a monophyletic group currently of seven proposed species that are all able to cause disease in humans over a wide range of healths from immunocompromised to normal immune systems. Collectively these fungi kill an estimated 119,000-234,000 people each year, according to an estimate from the United States CDC in 2014. We take molecular genetic approaches to identify the genes that enable Cryptococcus species to cause disease and have a second focus on the discovery of genes that are essential for viability of the fungus, as all antifungal drugs target essential functions. This research went on hold when the University shut the lab in 2020 due to COVID-19, but is coming back in 2023.
(3) Collaborative research and fungal biodiversity. In addition to these major research directions, we often also work in collaboration with researchers in Australia and around the world as part of other fascinating research related to fungal biology. Australia is renown for its flora and fauna in that its unique flora and fauna have been fully documented, but its even more remarkable fungal diversity is a ‘black’ box. We are engaged particularly in projects related to the discovery and characterisation of fungal diversity (especially in the Mucorales order), the least understood yet clearly fundamental, aspect of biology.