Chemist and antibiotic-resistance crusader are Tall Poppy scientists

Dr Jeremy Barr and Dr Victoria Blair.

Congratulations to Dr Victoria Blair and Dr Jeremy Barr on being named 2021 Victorian Tall Poppy Award winners, which recognise the outstanding work of early career researchers.

Drs Blair and Barr, from the Monash University Schools of Chemistry, and Biological Sciences, respectively are two of seven 2021 Victorian Tall Poppy Award winners from Monash, and two of 13 winners from Victoria.

The Tall Poppy Campaign was created in 1998 by the Australian Institute of Policy and Science (AIPS) to recognise and celebrate Australian intellectual and scientific excellence and to encourage younger Australians to follow in the footsteps of our outstanding achievers.

Dr Blair is one of Australia’s most talented early-mid career research chemists acknowledged by the competitive RACI Organometallic Chemistry Award (2019).

She publishes almost exclusively in top international journals, and the impact of her work is reflected in the numerous journal front covers, commentaries and highlights in chemical society magazines.

Her research has led to the new concept of ‘cleave and capture chemistry’ being coined in the literature, while her recent strong focus on organometallic catalysis resulted in being awarded a prestigious Future Fellowship.

“The making of chemicals for use in industry is costly, and damaging to the environment because it uses expensive and toxic building blocks,” said Dr Blair.

“Making brand new molecules that are not harmful requires innovative and efficient methods,” she said.

“I am an organometallic chemist, which means I like to use a range of metals in my research to make new direct metal-carbon or metal-nitrogen bonds.”

Dr Barr leads a 14-member research group and has published pioneering work in the field of bacteriophage biology and phage therapy. He is the most cited phage researcher in the country and is an exemplary leader of his field. His work has already saved the life of one patient, and his recent discoveries are likely to soon save many more.

Dr Barr researches the smallest and most abundant organism on the planet - bacteriophages, or ‘phages’, which are tiny viruses. But unlike viruses that make us sick, such as the flu or COVID, phages only infect and kill bacteria.

“My research uses phages as a way to fight bacteria that cause infections and disease,” said Dr Barr.

“Because of ‘antibiotic resistance’, bacterial infections are becoming much harder to treat,” he said.

“Twenty or so years ago, we could easily treat any bacterial infection with a course of antibiotics. But we over-relied on these antibiotics, and now ‘superbugs’ are fighting back, becoming resistant to these drugs.

“Phages can not only fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria but that they also resensitise them to the antibiotics they use to resist.”

Click on the links here to watch Dr Blair and Dr Barr discuss their research.

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