Flagship 1: Unlocking the peptide universe of unique Australian animals and plants

Flagship 1 is working towards uncovering the breadth of natural peptides and proteins in Australia’s native animals and plants and identifying those that may be repurposed for human benefit.

There is a particular focus on studying venomous species, marsupials, and native plants to identify molecules with potential applications in agriculture, biotechnology, animal health, and medicine. Researchers within this Flagship work within our Discover and Decode themes.

Our researchers are studying the venom composition of various Australian species using state-of-the-art proteomic, transcriptomic, and genomic approaches, as well as a wide array of functional assays. For example, the venom profiles of the deadly box jellyfish and Irukandji jellyfish are being examined to uncover the molecules that cause harmful effects to humans, thereby providing a platform to develop better treatments for jellyfish stings. Additionally, the relatively understudied venoms of caterpillars, assassin bugs, and the platypus are being studied for peptides with potential as human therapeutics, eco-friendly insecticides, or as tools for studying human pain. Researchers within Flagship 1 will have access to the largest venom collection in the world which is housed and maintained at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience within our Queensland node.

Non-venomous native fauna harbour a largely untapped reservoir of peptides and proteins. Marsupials for example, receive immunological support from their mothers through peptides in their milk and pouches. These peptides represent a novel source of potential antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) and antioxidants which may protect koala joeys, including orphans after bushfires. Amphibian, reptile and monotreme species also produce potentially useful peptides and proteins including AMPs which are of interest to this Flagship given the contributions that could potentially address the antimicrobial resistance crisis. Peptides produced by plants, including the butterfly pea, are also being studied for structure and function or for use as ‘bio-factories’ where next-generation medicines are grown in plants.

We are using our expertise in protein extraction and analysis to identify sustainable food sources for the Australian population. The protein profile of grains, legumes and insects are being studied to determine their suitability for human consumption. This work will identify species suitable for sustainable farming which will contribute to food security in Australia.