Fungi and oomycetes play key roles in the breakdown of organic matter in almost every ecological niche on the planet. Yet there are many species that are pathogenic and can cause disease. These present an increasing risk to ecosystems and human affairs. One aspect of their pathogenicity is their ability to grow invasively and their cells (hyphae) can act like pressurised drill bits and generate protrusive force. We are trying to understand the processes that underlie the generation of these forces using conventional cell biology and biochemistry techniques, coupled with Lab-on-a-Chip microfluidic devices..
For a Radio New Zealand broadcast about this work see: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ourchangingworld/audio/201848180/honey-i-shrunk-the-lab
We are also investigating species of algae that live in estuaries. Estuaries are of extreme ecological, economic and cultural significance in NZ, yet for the algae and plants that live there they can present an extreme challenge due to the tides causing constant changes in salinity. These organisms have to constantly change their internal solute concentrations to enable their cells to remain turgid (or pressurised). Certain species of yellow green algae appear to have novel means of using sodium ions for this purpose.
More recently we have started characterising fungi (Candida species) from clinical settings in Africa and have had additional projects investigating drug targeting of ovarian cancer cell lines.