Dr Carola Venturini

Postdoctoral Fellow
Westmead Institute for Medical Research

Telephone 0286273415

Website Honours in Medical Sciences at Westmead
Curriculum vitae Curriculum vitae

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Biographical details

Dr. Carola Venturini is a microbiologist whose research work has primarily focussed on the role of mobile genetic elements in the evolution of infectious bacteria. Starting with her honours (The University of Wollongong), where she investigated the damaging effects of UV exposure on Antarctic moss DNA, her research has had primarily a DNA-based approach. In her PhD work, she studied the relationship between antibiotic resistance, virulence and mobile DNA in pathogenic E. coli isolates, and this area remains one of her main research interests. In order to deepen her expertise in the field of bacterial evolution, whilst completing and after award of her PhD (The University of Wollongong), Dr. Venturini was directly involved in research projects investigating the links between horizontal gene transfer mechanisms and pathogenicity in Streptococcus pyogenes (acquisition and transfer of virulence and antibiotic resistance determinants by phage and other integrative DNA elements) using both microbiology lab-based methods and bioinformatics (University of Queensland). Dr. Venturini has been part of Prof. Iredell’s research group since 2013 and is currently involved in projects investigating the ecology of the gut microbiome and mechanisms of antibiotic resistance in the Enterobacteriacae (E. coli and K. pneumoniae). Dr. Venturini is also leading a newly funded research project exploring the use of bacteriophage in combating infective multiresistant bacterial clones. She has had extensive experience and has excelled in academic teaching, both in the class and as a supervisor of final year/honours research projects.

Research interests

Mobile genetic elements in Gram-negative bacteria including plasmids and bacteriophages

Genomics of bacteria and bacteriophages

Antibiotic resistance

Current projects

The rise in recent decades of bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics (MDR) has become a global issue and MDR Enterobacteriacae such as E. coli and K. pneumoniae have been declared an urgent threat by health agencies worldwide [WHO; CDC].Understanding the mechanisms shaping the evolution of pathogenic multidrug resistant bacterial populations is paramount for effective disease control and treatment strategies. In Gram negative enteric bacteria, the exchange of resistance and virulence genes by horizontal gene transfer mechanisms (plasmids; prophage etc.) is a major evolutionary force and these bugs are often recognised as important antimicrobial resistance reservoirs. Antibiotics are still heavily relied upon to treat bacterial infections, but, due to the rise in MDR strains, are not always effective. In addition, antibiotics are extensively used in food production contributing to the selective pressure enriching the transmissible resistome in animals. Alternative or adjuvant therapies to antibiotics are therefore urgently needed. In my work, I look both at the impact of antibiotic use on the complex microbial communities of the gut (ecology) and novel natural ways to combat resistance development and spread (plasmid curing; bacteriophage therapy). Plasmids are the naturally present in enteric bacterial cells and contribute to bacterial fitness and adaptation in specific environments, often with resistance and virulence genes that give a competitive advantage to the species that carry them. The ecology and persistence mechanisms of different plasmids can be exploited to eliminate problem ones carrying ‘risky’ elements (virulence or resistance genes), while maintaining the ‘good’ types and preserving the ecological balance in the microbial population.

Bacteriophages are natural predators of bacteria and can also be exploited to combat infection and for biocontrol purposes. Lytic viruses that specifically target one bacterial species are readily isolated from the environment and have been shown to be an effective potential alternative to antibiotics reducing infection both in vitro and in animal models. Their usefulness as antibacterial agents has been known since their discovery at the beginning of the 1900s but, due to the early clinical success of antibiotics, phages were all but forgotten in Western medicine for the rest of the century. However, the problem of antimicrobial resistance has meant a renewed interest in bacteriophage therapy as a real treatment and decontamination option.

I am currently actively exploring potential phage therapy against MDR E. coli and K. pneumoniae and characterizing the IncF family of MDR plasmids and their persistence mechanisms. I am in a position to offer, for the second half of 2017, Honours projects under my supervision in both these areas of research.

International links

United Kingdom

(Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute) Collaboration on genomics of enteric pathogens and their infecting bacteriophages

Selected grants

2016

  • Defining bacteriophage Therapy in High-Risk Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria; Petty N, Iredell J, Thomson N, Venturini C; National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)/Project Grants.

Selected publications

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Journals

  • Venturini, C., Ginn, A., Wilson, B., Tsafnat, G., Paulsen, I., Partridge, S., Iredell, J. (2018). Ecological effects of cefepime use during antibiotic cycling on the Gram-negative enteric flora of ICU patients. Intensive Care Medicine Experimental, 6(1), 1-7. [More Information]

2018

  • Venturini, C., Ginn, A., Wilson, B., Tsafnat, G., Paulsen, I., Partridge, S., Iredell, J. (2018). Ecological effects of cefepime use during antibiotic cycling on the Gram-negative enteric flora of ICU patients. Intensive Care Medicine Experimental, 6(1), 1-7. [More Information]

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