24 December 2013

Dr Erica Donner is at the cutting edge of her field in environmental biogeochemistry.

She completed most of her undergraduate training at the University of New South Wales and grew up in Australia, but admits she was blessed to work in the United Kingdom and experience international laboratories.

Now based at the University of South Australia, Dr Erica Donner's interests lie primarily in the field of biogeochemistry, with a major emphasis on soil and water/wastewater chemistry. Her research provides a fundamental basis for environmental risk assessment and risk management.

On 8 November, at a ceremony at the UniSA Magill Campus, Dr Donner was announced as one of 201 recipients of ARC Future Fellowships (for funding commencing in 2013). A total of $152 million was awarded to these fellows to undertake research in areas of critical national importance.

Dr Donner said at the ceremony that she was delighted and grateful to receive the fellowship which will be used to investigate the potential spread of silver resistant bacteria.

"This is a research topic that sits at the cross roads between environmental science, human health and the management of new technologies—the new technology in this case is silver nanotechnology which is increasingly used in medicine in the fight against bacterial infections."

Nanoparticles have a greater surface area than larger particles and thus silver nanoparticles have more silver ions on the surface. They are being used as an antimicrobial agent in several ways, and not just in the local hospital.

There has been a great increase in the use of silver nanotechnology for non-medical purposes and it is utilised in products such as: socks, shampoos, paint and washing machine surfaces.

However, just as antibiotics have been used for non-medical purposes which, we now know helped to spread the prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria, there are concerns the same may happen with wide spread use of nano-silver.

Dr Donner will use her Future Fellowship to investigate microbial silver resistance and cross resistance in key environments, such as hospitals and wastewater to determine whether conditions conducive to the spread of silver resistance may occur.

Dr Donner said the fellowship would allow her the opportunity to travel and collaborate with leading researchers in the field.

"This is a new and very exciting field of research and which can offer great potential benefits to Australia in the future."

For more information about the Future Fellowships funding outcomes please visit the ARC website or view the media announcement kit.


Image: Electron micrograph of nano-silver particles. Image courtesy: Dr Erica Donner