The Metabolic Research Group comprises academics within the School of Environmental and Life Sciences who have interests in studying metabolism at the cellular, tissue and body levels. Research focuses on measuring alterations to homeostasis at the cellular level in the case of bacteria and the whole body in relation to responding to external stimuli.
There are two main streams of research covered by this group:
- Bacterial responses to environmental stresses. Staphylococci are subjected to a range of stresses to learn how their metabolism responds to these challenges. Evidence suggests that a range of phenotypes exists depending on the environmental conditions. These pathogens can switch on virulence factors when opportunities arise for opportunistic infection. Understanding how the bacterium can adapt its metabolism, its membrane composition and cell wall associated proteins will help us develop new strategies for targeted drug design.
- Fatigue and pain in humans. The human body sustains a very complex and stable homeostasis. The body responds to exercise and pathogenic challenges via a catabolic response. The catabolic response involves the breakdown and turnover of muscle protein stores to meet the body's demand. This research seeks to establish an understanding of amino acid turnover and losses via urine excretion and sweat. This is done with a view of developing strategies for minimising muscle breakdown via directed amino acid supplementation. The fatigue and pain associated with muscle soreness following exercise could be intrinsically linked to excessive turnover of the muscle protein stores and in some cases, breakdown of structural proteins when excessive demands are made.
The two streams of activities are linked together through the concept that the staphylococci are capable of forming intracellular infections and long-term chronic infections. The implications of sustaining a prolonged catabolic response to continued pathogenic challenge provide a model for unexplained fatigue and pain during chronic illness.
The objective of the group are twofold:
- To undertake research on the metabolic responses to environmental challenges using metabolomics approaches. In brief, this involves taking biochemical snapshots of organic small molecule composition from cytoplasmic, cell membrane, cell wall and exudate fractions following exposure to various environmental challenges (e.g. pH, temperature, antibiotics). The profiles of metabolite compositions between treatments are then compared using advanced multivariate statistics.
- To examine changes in metabolic homeostasis in humans suffering from various conditions or subjected to a range of exercise regimes. This is achieved by measuring small organic molecular profiles in urine, blood plasma and sweat, to determine potential responses or anomalies associated with various states of ill health or following exercise. The aim is specifically to understand metabolic turnover and losses to develop amino acid-based nutraceuticals that will minimise muscle protein breakdown. A system of metabolic profiling will be developed to produce nutraceuticals that match the exercise specific amino acid losses.
EXAMPLES OF CURRENT PROJECTS
- The cytoplasmic, cell membrane and cell wall associated protein responses of staphylococcal spp to environmental stresses.
- The identification of target metabolic processes for anti-microbial drug design. The phenotypic variations in liquid cultures of staphylococcal spp viewed as an evolutionary advantage for ensuring survival in dynamic environments.
- Phenotypic variations in the human population for amino acid homeostasis.
- Amino acid alterations in homeostasis in patients with prostate cancer following radiotherapy.
- The impacts of exercise-specific amino acid losses via sweat and urine on muscle catabolism and body homeostasis.
- Changes in sweat composition across a simulated triathlon in hot humid conditions.
Members of the group have been very successful in gaining national competitive research grants and industry funding.
The research has resulted in numerous publications in high impact journals ranging in the fields of microbiology, biochemistry, clinical sciences and exercise physiology.
EXTERNAL COLLABORATORS/ RESEARCH SUPPORT
There are a number of external funding partners involved in the Group's research projects. These include:
- The Australian Research Council (Linkage)
- Top Nutrition Pty Ltd, (Major Industry Partner)
- University of Gothenburg, Sweden