NOV 12, 2015 01:30 PM PST

Genomics in Public Health Microbiology

  • Professor, Head of Laboratory, Microbiology and Immunology, Director, Microbiological Diagnostic Unit, University of Melbourne
      The Howden Laboratory, located in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity is closely affiliated with the Microbiological Diagnostic Unit Public Health Laboratory (MDU PHL). Professor Howden is an Infectious Diseases Physician and Medical Microbiologist who is Director of the MDU PHL and Head of the Research Laboratory.

      The Howden Laboratory works in close collaboration with the Stinear Laboratory, and has close links with the Infectious Diseases and Microbiology Units at Austin Hospital.

      Our research uses genomics, molecular biology, epidemiology and clinical studies to addresses a broad range of issues related to invasive bacterial diseases in humans, especially those caused by staphylococci, enterococci and other antimicrobial-resistant species. Additionally, working closely with scientists in the MDU PHL, we investigate the evolution, epidemiology and spread of bacterial pathogens of public health significance such as Neisseria gonorrhoea, Listeria monocytogenes, Shigella and Salmonella spp. and Legionella spp.


    While genomics has been used as a tool for research for many years, globally there is increasing momentum to deploy microbial genomics for routine public health microbiology. This technology has potential broad application in the diagnosis, surveillance, characterisation, and source-tracking for public health pathogens. Genomics also has the potential to replace many microbial typing techniques, and allow real-time, higher resolution national and international characterisation of microbial pathogens. Early successes have been reported in some jurisdictions, including the early recognition of putative foodborne disease outbreaks that have reduced the number of human infections associated with certain contaminated food. Improved tracking of antibiotic resistant microbes through genomics also has the potential to prevent further spread of these pathogens. Significant work is still required to determine how best to transition public health microbiology to a genomics based specialty, including issues of data quality, bioinformatics pipelines, and reporting of results to end-users.

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