FVAS researchers win 2021 Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards

Two staff of the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences were successful in applications for the Australian Research Council's (ARC) 2021 Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) scheme.

Dr Nadeeka Wawegama of the Melbourne Veterinary School received funding for the project "Bacterial cell invasion factors as vaccine targets", and Dr Qinglin Chen from the School of Agriculture and Food achieved success for the project "Synthetic microbiome: improving crop nitrogen acquisition and productivity".

The DECRA scheme provides focused research support for early career researchers, in order to:

  • Support excellent basic and applied research by early career researchers
  • Support national and international research collaboration
  • Enhance the scale and focus of research in Australian Government priority areas
  • Advance promising early career researchers and promote enhanced opportunities for diverse career pathways
  • Enable research and research training in high quality and supportive environments.

Professor Joanne Devlin, who leads research for the faculty as Associate Dean, Research, congratulated Drs Wawegama and Chen.

"On behalf of the Faculty, I congratulate Nadeeka and Qinglin on their funding success and look forward to following the outcomes of this important research," she said.

"I also thank academic mentors and faculty research office colleagues who assisted in this significant achievement, and to acknowledge this year’s unsuccessful applicants and thank them for their efforts."

Bacterial cell invasion factors as vaccine targets

This project, led by Dr Wawegama and funded for $462,948, aims to determine the virulence factors responsible for cellular invasion and systemic spread of Mycoplasma bovis, and use genome editing technologies (CRISPR-Cas9) to create gene knock out mutants that cannot invade host cells and test their potential as vaccine candidates in animals.

Nadeeka Wawagama portrraitMycoplasma bovis is an emerging cause of mastitis, the most important infectious disease in the dairy industry, and causes significant economic losses. The vaccine candidates developed in this project are expected to be used to control outbreaks of mastitis, and to improve biosecurity, production and animal welfare in the Australian and global dairy industries.

Synthetic microbiome: improving crop nitrogen acquisition and productivity

Challenges to food security under conditions of global climate change are forcing us to increase crop production to feed the growing population.

Focusing on the plant–microbe interactions represents a promising area in the search for tools to address this challenge.

This project, led by Dr Chen and funded for $452,005, aims to develop a three-step framework that allows researchers to systematically and reproducibly investigate crop microbiomes to enable us to design a ‘Beneficial Biome’, a biologically based solution for improving agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability under constrained conditions, where limited resources are available to fertilise.