Our work addresses fundamental questions in gene regulation as well as applied aspects of fungal biotechnology. Honours projects provide wide ranging skills and experience in genetics, molecular biology and biotechnology. The projects below are outlined broadly, and there is ample scope to tailor the projects to the specific skills and interests of individual students. Please contact the lab head, Joan Kelly, to discuss current possible Honours projects.
Project 1: “Genetic dissection of a regulatory deubiquitination network”.
This project will characterise the components and regulatory consequences of a ubiquitination /deubiquitlintion network in the simple eukaryote, Aspergillus nidulans. We have identified mutations with clear phenotypes that affect individual components of the complexes responsible for the addition and the removal of ubiquitin moieties, and this provides a unique experimental handle that we will exploit to completely understand the network. Precise control of the production, modification, localisation and degradation of proteins is essential. It was thought that the addition of ubiquitin simply marked proteins for degradation, but there are far more widespread regulatory consequences, which we are investigating.
The potential impact of this work is widespread, because although it is known that ubiquitination has regulatory consequences in multicellular eukaryotes, individual networks have not been completely described in higher eukaryotes. Knowledge gained about fundamental processes in the A. nidulans model system is directly applicable to fungi used in biotechnology in the food, beverage, enzyme and pharmaceutical production industries, and to fungal pathogens. Since the fungal genes that form the basis of this project are conserved in higher eukaryotes including humans, the knowledge will be transferable to these systems.
A relevant review: Kelly JM (2004). The Regulation of Carbon Metabolism in Filamentous Fungi. In: R Brambl and G Marzluf G. (Eds). The Mycota Vol. III 2nd edition: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York.
Project 2: "Fungal Biomass Protein, a Bioproduct Derived from a Treatment Process of Winery Waste Streams”.
This project is in collaboration with Associate Professor Bo Jin, School of Chemical Engineering, and School of Earth and Environmental Science.
The Australian wine industry produces a substantial quantity of wastewater containing high levels of organic materials that are both highly polluting and costly to treat. This research aims to develop a biotechnological treatment process integrated with fungal biomass protein (FBP) production from the winery waste streams. The outcomes of this project are i) the production of fungal biomass for use as a protein-rich animal feed; ii); the treatment of waste water to allow reuse for farm irrigation; and iii) reduced pollution of watercourses. The research aims to develop a novel technology that is environmentally friendly and adds value to the Australian winery industry via pollution reduction and FBP production. A focus of this research will be the development of strains using recombinant DNA technology and genetic transformation. The filamentous fungi are amenable to genetic engineering and considerable expertise and tools exist for the manipulation of filamentous fungi. The specific outcome required is that the organic components in winery waste be converted into valuable products. Therefore, a microorganism must be produced that has ability to convert a very broad range of potential substrates to protein and to undergo the conversion to a high protein content in cells at a high conversion rate. The particular strain of Aspergillus oryzae DAR3699, has found to have physical properties that are appropriate for use in a bioreactor. The challenge is to produce a single strain the produces high levels of a range of enzymes.
A relevant review: Zhang, ZY, Jin, B, Kelly, JM (2007). Production of lactic acid from renewable materials by fungal microorganisms of Rhizopus spp.. Biochemical Engineering Journal. 35:251-263.