Salvation in the soil

Biotechnology PhD candidate Luke Stevenson is digging to discover new antibiotics from the bacteria in New Zealand soil.

Biotechnology PhD candidate Luke Stevenson

I am part of Dr Jeremy Owen and Associate Professor David Ackerley’s team of Victoria University of Wellington scientists that recently gained a $1.2 million funding boost from the Health Research Council of New Zealand. While the team is focusing on different aspects of the programme, we are all headed towards the same goal—discovering new molecules that can be developed into antibiotics.

I am trying to make antibiotics by using a few different molecular biology techniques to find the defensive molecules that bacteria use to compete with other microbes. From there, we can see if there is any difference in the antibiotics that are produced from bacteria living in New Zealand soils compared with bacteria that live in soils throughout the world.

New discoveries

The most exciting aspect of my research is that no one has looked at New Zealand soil samples to develop antibiotics. We’re able to pull out novel genes and compounds from the environment. It’s this opportunity to uncover things no one has seen before that I love most about my research.

With a focus on collaborative research, our team works with the natural discovery team in the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences. They’re looking from purely a chemical perspective, whereas we’re looking at the genetics and the microbiology of it, so both teams complement each other.

Passionate and supportive

I love the supportive research environment at Victoria University of Wellington. David and Jeremy are active supervisors and I enjoy how passionate they are about the research.

If I have something new to show them, they get really excited and will come rushing in, and they are always keen to help if things aren’t going quite right.