Microbiology is the science of studying microorganisms, including bacteria, yeasts and moulds, where the individual organisms are too small to be seen with the eye unaided. Microbiology is a science that is immediately engaging for students of all ages, including adults! Microbiology is a whole world that we can't see, but that is all around us, on us and in us each and every day. Who would not be fascinated to find out what invisible beings are waiting to be discovered on the soles of our shoes or deep in space? Like looking up to see the stars through a telescope at night, microbiology is a voyage of discovery each time that we look down a microscope to reveal the secret world of microbes.
Even better, microbiology is an incredibly practical science. Our health and wellbeing, the ability to grow our crops, the foods we eat and many of the products that we use each day all depend on microbiology. In some case, humans have appreciated the value of microorganisms for thousands of years, even before they knew what microorganisms were! But, in many cases, the importance of microbes to human existence is only just beginning to be appreciated. Therefore, the science of microbiology has a rich history to draw on, as well as an exciting and high tech future ahead of it.
Finally, microbiology is a wonderful context for true STEM teaching and application. This is because microbiology is an integrative science that draws from and utilises biology, physics, chemistry, mathematics, engineering and technology.
Don't believe us? Well, as practising research microbiologists, our team has worked (and published) on everything from the physical chemistry of the microbial membrane and mathematical models predicting microbial death rates, to changes in packaging polymers under pressure and computational fluid dynamics for the design of new industrial equipment.
If you're interested to know more about any of these, you can check out our list of scientific publications here.
Our real research interests
One of the very best things about having our own research laboratory is being able to work on all of the things that we find interesting and exciting. And there are a lot of them! Best of all, we invite students and teachers to work with us in each of these areas of microbiology research, through our various MSchool and Skilled in Science programs.
Scott, Belinda and Michelle are all really interested in antimicrobial resistance (AMR). It has been estimated that AMR will create an annual global financial burden of $100 trillion by 2050, by which time it is estimated that 10 million people per year will die from infections caused by resistant microorganisms. Scott is currently researching how antibiotic resistance can spread by horizontal gene transfer among different species of bacteria. Belinda and Michelle are interested in the little researched area of antimicrobials produced by anaerobic microorganisms under conditions of low redox potential.
In 2019 Quantal Bioscience became partners in a commercial fermentation factory (that's a picture of our factory to the left, taken while it was being built). Quantal Bioscience works on many different types of fermentations involving bacteria and yeast. Our research includes understanding how different microbes grow under different fermentation conditions, in order to improve fermentation speed and increase yield at industrial scale. We also work with artisans to create unique fermented food products, and to help them develop a deeper understanding of their artisan fermentation processes and starter cultures.
Microbiomics is the study of the collected microorganisms found together in an environment, including using molecular techniques. Michelle, Belinda, Scott and Georgia are all researching in the area of microbiomics, in environments as diverse as beach sand, soil, compost, the hind gut of the horse, fermented foods and food factories. Not only are the microbiological insights provided through microbiomics exciting, but the latest developments in sequencing technologies bring us even more fascinating research areas, including the amazing underlying diversity of the microbial genome.
Horse gut health
Having previously worked in human gut health, Belinda, Scott, Michelle and Emma are all fascinated by how similar, and yet utterly different the horse gut is to our own. Just like us, horses are monogastrics. But the horse gut is much, much more complex than our own, especially when it comes to the diversity of microorganisms that call it home, and that play such a vital role in energy production (through fermentation!) and gut health. Our research in horse gut health makes use of microbiomics to understand how, just like in humans, horse 'lifestyle' effects their gut microbes. Through Scott's PhD research we're also improving our understanding of AMR among microbes in the horse gut.
Yeasts and moulds
Yeasts and moulds are fascinating beasts. Eukaryotes like us, yeast and moulds are more complex than bacteria, and are often more difficult to work with. Belinda has a particular fascination with yeasts, including Candida, which incredibly is a human pathogen, insect gut symbiont, fermentation microorganism, and a food spoilage organism. Michelle, Emma and Georgia all have a fascination with moulds - from compost, to crop infections to food spoilage. Georgia's Honours research looking at the mycobiome of beach sand is also developing new tools that allow us to study yeasts and moulds using molecular biology.
Quantal Bioscience is on the hunt for extremophiles. Extremophiles are microorganisms that persist under the toughest of conditions, including at high temperatures, when there is very little water present, and in the presence of very high concentrations of salt and sugar, at the extremes of pH, and in the presence of high amounts of UV radiation. The amazing abilities of extremophiles can render them extremely useful in a range of biotechnology applications, including for fermentation under extreme conditions.
Energy producing microbes
Michelle, Belinda, Georgia and Blake are all really interested in using microbes to produce energy. Quantal Bioscience aims to build a culture collection of microbes that could provide the answer to a myriad of our domestic and industrial energy needs for the future. Michelle has worked with students in The Future Project to find microbial consortia able to produce hydrogen using dark fermentation. Michelle, Georgia and Blake are working with students in our Molecular Science collaborative to sequence the microbiome of microbial fuel cells and to isolate electrogenic bacteria from a range of soils and sediments.
Microbes in space
When we grow up, we ALL want to be space microbiologists. The Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover mission has us all hooked. Launching in mid-2020, over the next couple of years the Perserverance Rover will attempt to answer key questions about the potential for life on Mars, including by searching for signs of past, and possibly even extant microbial life. Delayed this year by COVID-19 (now that's one microbe we don't like), we're all looking forward to re-launching our own Mars Exploration Technology Analogues research project in 2021, to characterise the microbiome of extreme environments in outback NSW.