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The melioidosis agent Burkholderia pseudomallei in the anthropogenic environment of the Top End



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Although the soil bacterium Burkholderia pseudomallei causes the severe disease melioidosis in humans and animals and is endemic in the Top End of Australia, we only have a limited understanding of its habitat in the environment.

An increasing body of evidence suggests that anthropogenic changes of the environment promote growth of Burkholderia pseudomallei and thus, increase the risk of exposure to these bacteria. In field surveys in the Darwin region complemented with laboratory experiments, we are analysing the occurrence of B. pseudomallei in the anthropogenic environment such as in residential gardens, water bores or on construction sites.

Changes in landscape ecology such as caused by the introduction of exotic grasses to the Top End were also found to influence the environmental distribution of B. pseudomallei. Multivariable and spatial analyses were performed to determine significant predictors for B. pseudomallei occurrence in plants and soil. Fluorescence-in-situ-hybridization and confocal laser-scanning microscopy were used to localize the bacteria in plants.

Finally, results of these studies will be used to improve our prediction mapping of the occurrence of Burkholderia pseudomallei in the environment of the Top End.

Mirjam Kaestli did her PhD as a molecular parasitologist in malaria research at the Swiss Tropical Institute in Switzerland in collaboration with the Institute of Medical Research in PNG and moved to Darwin in 2005 to start her postdoc at Menzies School of Health Research on environmental determinants of Burkholderia pseudomallei occurrence in the Top End.