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Research Masterclass - Using Genomic Surveillance to Trace Pathogens Through Pandemics

Presented by Associate Professor Benjamin Schwessinger, Australian National University
06 JUL 2023
2.00 PM - 4.00 PM

Genomic pathogen surveillance is an instrumental tool for biosecurity, public health, and conservation biology. This lecture will illustrate the principles of genomic surveillance from DNA sequencing to public health interventions. All steps will be illustrated with firsthand real-world examples. This includes tracing SARS-COV2 in the Australian Capital Territory during the pandemic and tracing the plant pathogen causing myrtle rust in Australia.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Identify suitable sample collection methods for pathogen surveillance.
  • Understand different DNA sequencing approaches employed for pathogen surveillance.
  • Differentiate the different steps required in genomic pathogen surveillance in public health.
  • Interrogate the presence and absence of national genomic pathogen surveillance networks.
  • Understand the limitations of genomic pathogen surveillance.

Benjamin Schwessinger studied biochemistry in Leipzig Germany before becoming fascinated by plants. He switched to plant science halfway through his degree and graduated from the beautiful University of Glasgow with a first-class honours Bachelor of Science in 2006. He obtained his PhD from the University of East Anglia, England, in 2011 working on the model plant Arabidopsis. He moved to sunny California to work at the University of California, Davis, in 2011. His work on rice immunity was supported by an EMBO and an HFSP postdoctoral fellowship from 2012 to 2015. Looking for new frontiers, Benjamin moved to the Australian National University, Canberra in 2015. His change of topic and scenery was support by an ARC DECRA fellowship which enabled him to start a new line of research on pathogenic fungi of wheat. In 2018, Benjamin became a fully independent group leader supported by an ARC Future Fellowship. Since then, he has worked on plant pathogens, fungal biology, and supported the SARS-CoV2 genomic surveillance efforts in the ACT from 2020 to 2023. Most recently, Benjamin was named the 2022 ACT Emerging Scientist of the Year for his work at “the intersect of pathogen genomics and biosecurity”.