Tatiana Soares da Costa brings a world of knowledge in antibiotics and herbicides to Waite

Tatiana Soares da Costa

Dr Tatiana Soares da Costa will start her Future Making Fellowship at Waite Campus in March 2022, and will bring her novel approaches to researching antibiotics and herbicides with her to the University of Adelaide.

Originally coming from a chemistry field with a medical focus joining the school of Agriculture, Food and Wine might not look very straight-forward. Tatiana however, has expanded her research on antibiotic compounds, the original focus of her PhD and NHMRC Early Career fellowship, to include work on developing novel herbicides during her ARC DECRA fellowship at La Trobe University. The disheartening discovery that compounds she was researching for antibiotic properties did not have any activity against live bacteria, made Tatiana change direction to see if there could be a way to repurpose these compounds. “I realised that the proteins we were targeting in bacteria are very structurally similar to proteins found in plants, so from there this work changed from developing antibiotics to understanding how we could maybe use these compounds as herbicidal agents.” Tatiana is continuing this work on both antibiotic and herbicide discovery during her Future Making Fellowship and thinks Waite Campus in Adelaide is the perfect place to do so. “It is so great to be at Waite because of the large breadth of expertise here, it will be very complimentary to my work and what I bring in knowledge.”

Tatiana already will bring a large breadth of expertise herself as she has worked in different fields and industries. After her initial time at university as a student at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, she took some time to build new skills in a role at hair cosmetics brand Schwarzkopf, where she led their chemistry and microbiology lab. It did not take too long however for research to come calling again, and a PhD brought her to Adelaide for the first time. This is where her work took focus on antibiotic discovery, and she developed a series of compounds that were effective against the superbug golden staph. The driver of Tatiana’s scientific interest has always been the structure-function characterisation of proteins and utilising this knowledge to develop novel target compounds, but with her extensive career – which also includes being a teaching-only lecturer at Charles Sturt University,  being the Editor of the Australian Biochemist magazine and in the Board of Directors of Science & Technology Australia – it is no surprise she takes ‘thinking outside the box’ to a new level and is not afraid to bring together different fields and scientists.  

Her way of looking at herbicide development is also taking a different approach to the old-school discovery pathway where mode of action was often an afterthought to efficiency of killing weeds – leading to potential off-target effects in animals and humans.

"We are now working with a target specific approach, where we know exactly what protein we are trying to inhibit and we determined their structure so we can develop compounds that specifically target them"Dr Tatiana Soares da Costa

Tatiana uses a number of approaches to speed up the antibiotic and herbicide discovery process, including supercomputers and re-purposing, the latter of which will be the focus of her recently awarded ARC Discovery Project. Aside from having less off-target effects, her research aims to combine the newly developed compounds into antibiotic and herbicide ‘cocktails’ to help improve efficacy and minimise the emergence of resistance. In the future, Tatiana would like to drive translational aspects of her research, to see what her work can mean for better food security. At this stage however, she is just excited to return to Adelaide to continue her work. “After my PhD in Adelaide, it is quite surreal to come back as a group leader, which is exciting. I am looking forward to finding new mentors at Waite, but also to become a mentor for young researchers.” One of Tatiana’s passions is mentoring: “Sometimes in my career it felt like ‘things just happened’ and there was not much planned at the time, and if I could help young scientists find their way that would just be fantastic.”

Tatiana was recently interviewed by ABC Rural for SA Country Hour - have a listen at the interview here.

For more information on Tatiana's research or to get in contact with her, have a look at her profiles on LinkedIn or Research Gate. You can follow Tatiana on Twitter @Tatiana_Biochem 

Written by Lieke van der Hulst, 20/01/22