student profile: Miss Jess Agius


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Thesis work

Thesis title: Combatting a novel, emergent bacterial pathogen threatening reptiles in a biodiversity hotspot

Supervisors: David PHALEN , Mark KROCKENBERGER

Thesis abstract:

Emerging infectious agents are key threatening processes which have caused significant adverse impacts on island endemics. The detection of a novel infection with a morphologically unusual microorganism was first observed in captive critically endangered native Lister’s geckos (Lepidodactylus listeri) on Christmas Island in October 2014. Since then, the infection has been identified in the critically endangered native blue-tailed skink (Cryptoblepharus egeriae), and invasive common house geckos (Hemidactylus frenatus) and four-clawed geckos (Gehyra mutilata). Affected animals initially develop swelling around the head and eyes, eventually succumbing to systemic disease. In all cases, infection results in mortality. Limited information is known regarding the distribution, prevalence, and pathophysiology of this newly characterised Enterococcus species, which may pose a more widespread or even global threat. An expanse of laboratory methodologies, in addition to field trips to Christmas Island will be undertaken in order to isolate the bacterium for complete characterisation, determination of virulence/antimicrobial resistance determinants, and metabolic factors using traditional pathology methods and sophisticated molecular techniques. Disease pathogenesis and host-pathogen-environment interactions will be deduced from disease dynamics studies, and therapeutic efficacy studies will be pursued in order to inform management of captive breeding and insurance colonies. Ultimately, elucidating the pathogenesis, epizootiology, and ecology of this bacterium will be critical in developing management strategies and treatment protocols in order to mitigate disease impact. Knowledge gained from these studies will be incorporated into guidelines for the control and prevention of this bacterium, in collaboration with CI natural resource managers.

Selected grants

2017

  • Combating a Novel Emergent Bacterial Pathogen threatening Reptiles in a Biodiversity Hotspot; Phalen D, Agius J, Rose K, Bender H; Equity Trustees Limited/Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment.

Selected publications

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Journals

  • Rose, K., Agius, J., Hall, J., Thompson, P., Eden, J., Srivastava, M., Tiernan, B., Jenkins, C., Phalen, D. (2017). Emergent multisystemic Enterococcus infection threatens endangered Christmas Island reptile populations. PloS One, 12(7), e0181240. [More Information]

2017

  • Rose, K., Agius, J., Hall, J., Thompson, P., Eden, J., Srivastava, M., Tiernan, B., Jenkins, C., Phalen, D. (2017). Emergent multisystemic Enterococcus infection threatens endangered Christmas Island reptile populations. PloS One, 12(7), e0181240. [More Information]

Note: This profile is for a student at the University of Sydney. Views presented here are not necessarily those of the University.