A fascination with parasitic diseases carried by ticks living on Australian native mammals has earned a Murdoch University researcher a prestigious international prize.
Dr Amanda Barbosa was awarded the Odile Bain Memorial Prize, an international prize recognising significant contribution by an early career researcher to the study of parasites and vectors of medical and veterinary importance.
Investigating native mammal health
During her PhD studies, Dr Barbosa generated important knowledge on the diversity, distribution and potential clinical impact of blood parasites on Australian mammals. Remarkably, she developed a way to simultaneously detect DNA sequences of multiple parasite species in koalas, which resulted in a surprising discovery.
“For the first time, we were able to identify mixed infections with up to five different species of the parasite called Trypanosoma within the same koala,” Dr Barbosa said.
“This is important because it gives a clearer picture of the diverse nature of parasites that are potentially contributing to disease in our koala populations.”
This parasite is responsible for the chronic infection called sleeping sickness in Africa but its effect on koalas requires more study.
Another highlight of Dr Barbosa’s doctoral research was the discovery of a novel parasite trypanosome species causing serious disease in an Australian little red Flying fox.
Recognition of early achievement
Dr Barbosa said it was a great honour and privilege to win this special award, named in honour of Odile Bain, an exceptional and inspiring female scientist.
“This award recognises what I have achieved so far and gives me confidence to continue to follow my passion for research in this fascinating field,” she said.
“I hope to see my research developed into practical resources to improve animal and human health in Australia and internationally in the future.”
Dr Barbosa has continued her work in the Vector and Waterborne Pathogens Research Group at Murdoch University. She is now also focused on discovering how these microorganisms travel through tick tissues, to better understand how they are passed to animals and people and ultimately stop transmission.