The rise of antimicrobial resistance in microbes of all types: bacteria, fungi and parasites, is a global phenomenon and has been described as a slow-moving tsunami. Currently there is no natural barrier to protect us from this disaster. In the case of antimicrobial resistant bacteria, we have come to understand much about how the over-use of antibiotics in agriculture and hospitals has selected for antibiotic-resistant "superbug" strains of bacteria, and why it is that these become the dominant forms in these environments. Klebsiella pneumoniae is an important example of how human behaviour creates such superbugs. Previously most at home in soils and waterways, it has evolved from being a readily treatable accidental pathogen to a major cause of death in a broad sweep of the world across Pakistan, India and China.

We are working with partners in China to characterize and understand drug-resistant forms of Klebsiella pneumoniae and Klebsiella pseudopneumoniae in a comprehensive collection of isolates from across the past 15 years. We are working towards interventions to reverse the drug-resistant phenotypes in these bacteria, to allow extant drugs to be more effective in the clinic. Our understanding of the biology of Klebsiella also suggests means to cleanse built environment of hospitals and food-processing factories of this now dangerous pathogen.

Professor Trevor Lithgow

Professor Lithgow is an ARC Laureate Fellow in the Biomedicine Discovery Institute (BDI) at Monash University,and is Scientific Director of the Monash BDI-Wenzhou Medical University Institute. Lithgow is a molecular biologist who has made fundamental contributions to microbial cell biology. His lab was the first to derive a complete model for the evolution of the molecular machines that make mitochondria, tracing their bacterial ancestry. Current work in the Lithgow lab uses Escherichia coli as a model system, and Klebsiella pneumoniae as a recently evolved pathogen, to understand bacterial cell wall biogenesis and surface architecture. He is the author of more than 150 research articles, including papers in Nature and Science.

Professor Lithgow lectured in molecular biology at the University of Melbourne for ten years, and was awarded an ARC Federation Fellow in 2008 to move to Monash University to establish an inter-departmental Program in Host-Pathogen Molecular Biology and an NHMRC Program in Cellular Microbiology. He was recognized with an ARC Laureate Fellowship in 2014 and was elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Sciences in 2010.

Seminar host: Professor Ian Henderson (

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