University of Newcastle researcher Dr Peter Lewis is the only Australian to join a massive European-based project which is investigating the development of diseases such as anthrax and golden staph.
Dr Lewis has been awarded $486,000 from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) for his part in the €12 million ($AUD20 million) Bacillus Systems Biology (BaSysBio) project.
Dr Lewis, from the University's Faculty of Science and Information Technology, said the project would look at the factors which lead to the development of disease.
"We will look at the changes which occur when you put a bacterium under stress, which is usually when they become most infectious," he said.
"If we can identify the factors that lead to the development of disease, we can develop anti-infection drugs which target the bacteria. This is important because bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, particularly in hospitals, and there's a need to develop drugs that can help prevent or treat infection."
Dr Lewis said the scientists would work with a non-infectious organism called Bacillus subtilis and then apply their knowledge to Bacillus anthracis (responsible for anthrax) and Staphylococcus aureus (responsible for golden staph).
"Anthrax has been used as a bioterrorism organism because it can be ground to a powder and used to make bombs or sent in letters. If a person inhales a significant dose of anthrax they will probably die and we'd like to develop drugs which could help fight any major anthrax outbreak.
"Golden staph is a real problem in hospitals, where it is one of the major causes of infection following surgery or from getting into the body through catheters or needles. Many of these infections are resistant to one or more antibiotic and can be very difficult to treat so we'd like to find new ways to fight these infections."
Dr Lewis said his involvement in the BaSysBio project placed him in a team of top class scientists.
"This is a great example of international collaboration. Fifteen research organisations in Europe and the University of Newcastle are all working together to make substantial increases in our understanding of how bacterial cells work and how we can exploit this knowledge in the areas of health and the environment."