Prof. Richard ( Hugh ) Dunstan
|Work Phone||(02) 4921 5086|
|Fax||(02) 4921 5361|
School of Environmental and Life Sciences
The University of Newcastle, Australia
|Office||SB203, Sciences Building|
RHD has developed extensive expertise in cell and molecular profiling technologies based on metabolomics for the measurement of metabolites in cell systems including bacteria, fungi, molluscs and mammalian tissues and fluids.
The analytical approaches have been developed over the last 20 years and have involved using techniques such as gas chromatography - mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and HPLC and have extended towards complex organic analyses of environmental samples to assess pollution profiles and their impacts on metabolism and health.
Over the last 20 years a cell and molecular profiling laboratory has been established for The Pathogenic and Environmental Microbiology Group, which is specifically configured for biological research and contains two GC-MS units, two gas chromatographs (FID and ECD) and HPLC equipment with associated reference databases for peak identification. This represents a unique facility for studying the impact of toxins/pollutants on organisms in the environment and investigating disease mechanisms of pathogenic bacteria. The facilities have also been used via collaborative research programs to investigate anomalies in metabolic homeostasis in patients with chronic illness.
Metabolomics involves profiling metabolites from cell extracts &/or body fluids to identify anomalies in metabolic homeostasis which might be related to specific disease states. Analytical procedures have been developed to assess changes in urine excretion profiles and blood plasma composition in patients and control subjects to determine differences in homeostasis between clinical groups.
A similar approach has been developed for investigating the responses of bacterial pathogens to environmental stresses such as nutrient deprivation, pH and osmotic potential in regard to switching on/off virulence factors. The responses to these stressors appears to modulate the bacterial phenotypes to the extent where highly resistant forms can be generated under certain conditions which could provide a basis to understanding multi-drug resistance in chronic infections.
The models of research have also provided some insight as to how pathogens can exist long term within the host via intracellular invasion mechanisms or the formation of biofilms on prosthetic implants.
The laboratory comprises a highly efficient facility for the PCR-based identification of organisms in water and pathology samples, which has led, for example, to the first description of Anaplasma (Erlichia) platys in dogs from northern Australia.
The research capacity of this specialised unit has led to numerous multidisciplinary research collaborations with medical specialists and environmental scientists which have all led to associated peer review publications. This work could not be carried out by either partner on their own, but together the associations represented truly functional multidisciplinary investigations.
The specialised laboratory has made an excellent learning environment for RHD students to learn state-of-the art techniques in metabolomics and develop professional skills in experimental design, quality control and data processing skills. A major outcome has been the development of skills in multivariate analyses required for metabolomics and similar approaches to measuring complex cellular responses.
The concept of cell and molecular profiling has also been extended to investigating miro-ecology of water supplies to determine possible sources of pathogenic organisms in stored water supplies. The basic principles of multivariate analyses have been applied to differentiate biochemical and bacterial profiles of storage systems to understand potential health risks. This research program also provides a model for investigating biofilms and their capacity to survive under adverse conditions and sequester nutrients and chemical pollutants.
- Doctor of Philosophy, University of Oxford - UK
- Bachelor of Science (Agriculture), University of Adelaide
- Bacterial metabolism
- Bioaccumulation of pollutants
- Chronic fatigue illness
- Pathogenic Bacteria
- Water contamination
- Water microbiology
Research History: RHD has developed extensive expertise in the measurement of metabolites in cell systems including bacteria, fungi, molluscs and mammalian tissues and fluids. The analytical approaches have been developed over the last 25 years and have involved using techniques such as gas chromatography - mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and HPLC. RHD brought expertise in GC-MS and HPLC from Oxford to Biological Sciences at The University of Newcastle on his appointment in 1990. Since this appointment, he has developed a specialised cell and molecular profiling laboratory that contains GC, GC-MS, HPLC, HR ICP-MS equipment specifically configured for biological research, making it a unique facility for studying diseases and biological impacts of pollutants. The laboratory also encompasses a microbiology facility for the PCR-based identification of organisms in water and pathology samples.
Research Focus: The primary research focus for RHD has been to use organic and elemental analyses to investigate changes in biochemical homeostasis. The technology platform has facilitated several successful multidisciplinary collaborations which have resulted in publications spanning the fields of ecotoxicology, biotechnology, metabolism and disease research. The research activities fall under 3 types:
(1) Basic research: method development has been a critical component and has included studies on PCR identification of bacteria, the investigation of the effects of factors regulating bacterial production of toxins, the release of low molecular weight metabolites from bacteria, and more recently, the formation of small colony variants following stress.
(2) Applied environmental research: this area has focussed on 2 major fields of activity:
a. Ecotoxicology: the investigation of bioaccumulation of heavy metals and organic contaminants and the subsequent effects on growth and metabolism in oysters.
b. Water research: the investigation of tracking sources of potential pathogens in water catchments, and the passage of microbes into water storage tanks and the associated risks of subsequent water usage. Biofilms play important roles in nutrient and toxic chemical acquisition, and these are currently under investigation.
(3) Clinical research: collaborations have been made with clinicians to investigate potential anomalies in biochemical homeostasis associated with persistent fatigue. These studies include an investigation of fatigue in cancer patients and the changes in blood and urine biochemistry. A second major study has involved the detection of intracellular bacterial pathogens in specific remote communities using dogs as a model for investigating multiple and simultaneous infections.
These 3 areas of research activities have considerable overlap and have facilitated new approaches to metabolic research by developing a capacity for multivariate analyses of complex biochemical and microbial datasets.
The development of cell and molecular profiling (CMP) techniques for studying responses of organisms to toxicogenic and pathogenic stress. The research requires multidisciplinary collaboration with colleagues in the Discipline of Biological Sciences as well as in other national and international institutions. The primary foci of research interests includes:
- The investigation of metabolic responses by staphylococci to environmental stresses
- The detection of metabolic anomalies in chronic fatigue and chronic pain related disorders.
The primary collaboration occurs between colleagues in the University of Gothenburg.
Fields of Research
|050299||Environmental Science And Management Not Elsewhere Classified||50|
|090799||Environmental Engineering Not Elsewhere Classified||30|
RHD has held several administration roles over the period of employment at the University of Newcastle, including membership of the Biohazards Technical Sub-Committee (1994-2001). In more recent years, the administrative involvement has focussed more on roles relating to University Governence.
- Head of School, School of Environmental and Life Sciences, 2007 - present
- Deputy Head of School, School of Environmental and Life Sciences, 2004 - 7
- Assistant Dean for Community Relations (2003-2004)
- Head of School of Environmental and Life Sciences (2007- present)
The School of Environmental and Life Sciences is a very large school encompassing the disciplines of Biology, Chemistry, Geography, Earth Sciences, Environmental Science and management, and Applied Sciences across both of the university's campuses at Callaghan and Ourimbah. The diverse teaching areas, philosophies and areas of expertise lead to complex budget and management arrangements. The diverse nature of the school generates significant challenges for effectively managing budgets and developing fruitful strategic policies. As HOS, I sit on the Faculty Executive Committee, the Faculty Board, the Faculty strategic planning committee and I chair the school executive committee. Essentially I am responsible for managing over 60 academic staff and delivering a wide range of undergraduate degree programs including 5 majors within the BSc, B Biotechnology and the B Environmental Science and Management. The management responsibilities include:
- Management of Budgets
- Part time teaching allocations
- Chemicals consumables budget for teaching
- Establishing spreadsheets for modelling, predicting and monitoring expenditure
- Managing RHD student completions
- Approval and processing of RHD scholarship applications
- Course rationalisation, program review and resource management
- Review discipline course structure with a view to decrease face-to-face hours for academics
- Manage staff workload
- Develop good practice for OH&S in the teaching and research environment.
RHD teaches first year Biology and third year Microbiology. The topic areas for biology include the basic biological chemistry concepts as well as covering a range of topics including DNA, proteins, carbohydrates and lipids. The coursework for Microbiology includes an overview of the diversity of bacteria and archaea, as well as exploring interactions for various symbioses, and an overview of aquatic and terrestrial microbes. In addition, RHD contributes to the newly devised professional lab skills courses in biology which aim to deliver high quality laboratory based training with enhanced resource support at both the 2nd year and 3rd year levels. The second year course aims to provide a range of basic analytical skills for microbiology, biochemistry and molecular biology, as well as for the animal, plant and ecology systems. The third year level courses represent an exciting new concept in undergraduate teaching, where the timetables have been arranged to accommodate 3 day sessions where the students complete an extensive and challenging project. These sessions are designed to reinforce the use of the basic techniques provided in the second year course and teach them concepts in experimental design and data interpretation
As Head of School of Environmental and Life Sciences, I have been responsible for a program of course rationalisation within the Biology Discipline and across a range of degree programs. The focus was to devise a delivery platform that provided a diverse range of Biology topics and provided specialised laboratory training for those choosing to major in Biology. This has been achieved by instigating a number of innovations where only those who have need for laboratory training sit the new series of Professional Skills courses offered in first year, second and third years. Other students whom we service for psychology, engineering or environmental studies who do not require such training receive high levels of education in their chosen biological subjects via lectures, tutorials and web-based learning systems. This has enabled a far more effective use of funds with higher than average staff to student ratios.
RHD has been involved in the training of Honours research students in the laboratory as well as PhD students. This level of training relates to instruction in scientific philosophy, experimental design, data processing, statistics, data interpretation and scientific writing. These students learn how to review the literature on a constructive basis and become competent at various biochemical, analytical and microbial techniques. Issues of quality assurance and performance accuracy are developed as major aspects of the research projects.