Development of an anti-chlamydial vaccine for koalas and livestock.
Chlamydia pecorum is a mucosal infection, which causes debilitating disease of the urinary tract, reproductive tract and ocular sites of koalas (Phascolarctos cinereus). While antibiotics are available for treatment, they are detrimental to the koalas gastrointestinal tract microflora leaving the implementation of a vaccine as an ideal option for the long-term management of koala populations. We have previously reported on the successes of an anti-chlamydial recombinant major outer membrane protein (rMOMP) vaccine however, recombinant protein based vaccines are not ideal candidates for scale up from the research level to small-medium production level for wider usage. Peptide based vaccines are a promising area for vaccine development, because peptides are stable, cost effective and easily produced. Currently, we are assessing, the immune responses to a synthetic peptide based anti-chlamydial vaccine in koalas.
Modulation of the immune function is a major toxicological concern associated with environmental pollution, and a link between exposure and prevalence of infectious diseases has been established in humans and wildlife. It has recently been suggested that the expression of microRNA-155 (miR-155) and related genes constitute an important innate host response against viral infections, since deregulation of this pathway is linked to increased host susceptibility and influences disease outcomes. We use a combination of in vitro, in vivo, and in situ studies to elucidate the mechanisms involved in pollutant induced disease amplification in humans, wildlife, and domestic animals
The combined effects of climate change and pollution on disease persistence in the Arctic will likely have a severe effect on Arctic wildlife in the years to come. This project is currently addressing this by characterising pollutant levels, immune system effects, and pathogen prevalence in a model species, the black legged kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla).
Host pathogen interactions
Climate related changes have been increasingly linked to disease expansion, and as warming continues it is predicted to specifically affect northern ecosystem disease dynamics. Northern ecosystems are also subject to high accumulation of pollutants (e.g. Persistent Organic Pollutants, Flame Retardants), yet information on the effect these immunosuppressive toxins have on infectious disease persistence in organisms, and their ability to respond to these new threats, is sparse at best. Thus, this project addresses infectious disease susceptibility and immune system effects from environmental pollutants in wildlife. This project is determining the as yet uncharacterised risk to naive (sub) Arctic species of emerging infectious disease threats due to: 1) climate change; 2) immunotoxic environmental pollutants; and 3) predicted low immune gene diversity of species that have historically been exposed to low pathogen levels.