Professor Ala Tabor
The University of Queensland
FantasTICK outcomes from tick OMICs
Ticks are mini-vampires, as they require hematophagous feeding on the blood of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. They are second to mosquitoes as the vectors of pathogens – viruses, bacteria and protozoa i.e. Typhus, Lyme disease, Q fever, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and spotted fevers. There are approximately 892 species worldwide and ~70 in Australia, of which 16 species bite humans, livestock and pets, and five species were introduced. Unlike other arthropods or parasites, tick ‘omic’ approaches have been slow to develop. Recently, 3 tick genomes were sequenced using a combination of long and short read technologies yet full assemblies limited by the ~70% repetitive content. Reverse vaccinology is an approach developed based on the in silico screening of whole genomes such as bacteria and viruses. Tick genomes range from 2.1 Gb- 7.1 Gb in size thus the use of transcriptomes or expressed sequence tags were targeted for tick vaccine development. A pipeline was developed for the selection of unique cattle tick vaccine candidates based on EST data while an anti- paralysis tick vaccine was designed from transcriptomic and proteomic approaches. Vaccines are under patent evaluation, however, the use of omic approaches has assisted to progress fantasTICK outcomes.
Prof Ala Tabor joined QAAFI's Centre for Animal Science in October 2010, after 18 years of conducting research with the Queensland Government. She is a research focussed academic with a strong background in industry engagement associated with animal health. Her research interests are associated with the application of genomic sequence data to improve animal disease management through: 1) the development of molecular diagnostic and genotyping methods to better identify pathogens; and 2) the study of gene function in relation to virulence and host pathogenicity of infectious diseases, to develop new effective vaccines. Areas studied to date include bovine reproductive diseases (in particular bovine genital campylobacteriosis), Australian paralysis tick (Ixodes holocyclus), cattle tick (Rhipicephalus microplus species complex), and tick-borne diseases (babesiosis and anaplasmosis). Some key outputs of her work include the application of reverse vaccinology for the development of a novel cattle tick vaccine and paralysis tick vaccine (patents pending), and commercialized diagnostic tools for bovine reproductive diseases. Prof Tabor has attained and completed ~$12 million in competitive grants in the last 10 years including the ARC, pharma and industry. Current research includes paralysis tick vaccines/treatments, bovine biomarkers for disease resistance, cattle tick commercial vaccine trials, bioinformatics/genomics of ticks and bovine venereal Campylobacter spp., tick fever genotyping/detection, and diagnostic assay development for bovine genital campylobacteriosis. Her international recognition in her field is exemplified by the invitation to join the BMGF International Cattle Tick Vaccine Consortium (CATVAC, est. 2015), specialist tick editor for the International Journal for Parasitology, Chair for the 9th International Tick and Tick-borne Pathogen (TTP9) conference (with the 1st Asia-Pacific Rickettsia Conference) held for the first time in Australia in 2017, and also international invitations to deliver expert presentations. Her research vision is to translate her research outcomes into viable products and methods for the benefit of cattle producers and pet owners. There are many options for students to pursue Honours, research components of Masters in Biotechnology or Masters in Molecular Biology (through affiliation with SCMB), as well as MPhil and/or PhD programs with Ala's group. Ala has also had a strong focus on diversity, inclusion and gender equity initiatives at the University of Queensland.