Dr Catherine Burke
Chancellor's Post Doctoral Research Fellow, The ithree Institute
B Sc (Hons - First Class), Ph D Microbiology & Immunology
I obtained my PhD in microbiology from the University of New South Wales in 2010. My research focused on the ecology of host associated bacterial communities from the marine environment, and on the search for novel bioactive compounds produced by these communities, employing both sequence based and functional metagneomic techniques.
I recently moved to the ithree institute, where I will continue to use metagenomic combined with other techniques for the discovery of novel compounds which regulate cell division in both medically relevant bacteria and environmental bacterial communities.
- Member of ISME (International Society for Microbial Ecology)
My research interests lie in uncovering the as yet unknown genetic potential which exists in bacterial communities in the environment and within the genomes of well studied bacteria, using culture independent, metagenomic and genomic methods. By exploring the function of both known and unknown genes, we can better understand the biology and ecology of disease causing organisms, and discover new drug targets to drive the development of novel antimicrobials.
More broadly, I am also interesting in understanding the ecology of microbial communities, and how those communities interact with living hosts.
Research supervision: Yes
Selected Peer-Assessed Projects
Burke, C.M., Steinberg, P.D., Rusch, D.B., Kjelleberg, S.L. & Thomas, T. 2011, 'Bacterial community assembly based on functional genes rather than species', Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 108, no. 34, pp. 14288-14293.
View/Download from: UTSePress | Publisher's site
The principles underlying the assembly and structure of complex microbial communities are an issue of long-standing concern to the field of microbial ecology. We previously analyzed the community membership of bacterial communities associated with the green macroalga Ulva australis, and proposed a competitive lottery model for colonization of the algal surface in an attempt to explain the surprising lack of similarity in species composition across different algal samples. Here we extend the previous study by investigating the link between community structure and function in these communities, using metagenomic sequence analysis. Despite the high phylogenetic variability in microbial species composition on different U. australis (only 15% similarity between samples), similarity in functional composition was high (70%), and a core of functional genes present across all algal-associated communities was identified that were consistent with the ecology of surface- and host-associated bacteria. These functions were distributed widely across a variety of taxa or phylogenetic groups. This observation of similarity in habitat (niche) use with respect to functional genes, but not species, together with the relative ease with which bacteria share genetic material, suggests that the key level at which to address the assembly and structure of bacterial communities may not be ´+¢species´+¢ (by means of rRNA taxonomy), but rather the more functional level of genes.
Yung, P., Burke, C.M., Kjelleberg, S.L., Thomas, T., Lewis, M. 2011, 'Novel Antibacterial Proteins From The Microbial Communities Associated With The Sponge Cymbastela Concentrica And The Green Alga Ulva Australis', Applied And Environmental Microbiology, vol. 77, no. 4, pp. 1512-1515.
View/Download from: Publisher's site
The functional metagenomic screening of the microbial communities associated with a temperate marine sponge and a green alga identified three novel hydrolytic enzymes with antibacterial activities. The results suggest that uncultured alpha- and gammaprot