Dr Joanne Kingsbury is a senior scientist with ESR’s Risk Assessment and Social Systems group.
Joanne earned her BSc (Honours) and PhD degrees in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the University of Canterbury. Prior to joining ESR, she worked as a research associate at Duke University Medical Center, North Carolina, USA.
At ESR, Joanne manages projects which isolate and identify the risks of disease-causing microbes such as Salmonella, Campylobacter and Listeria in food and food production environments. Maintaining safe food production is paramount for the health of New Zealanders, and for protecting our multi-billion dollar food export industry. Joanne works closely with NZ Food Safety and Ministry for Primary Industries, providing scientific input which may shape the development of food safety and food production standards. As an example of this, based on scientific evidence provided in a report prepared by Joanne, NZ Food Safety has amended the shelf life requirements for clean un-cracked eggs to 35 days at room temperature.
Joanne is interested in employing whole genome sequencing (WGS) approaches in the study of food and environmental contaminants. Compared with conventional culture-based strategies, DNA sequence information provides the opportunity for more detailed analyses; for example, identifying disease-causing traits or pin-pointing the sources of foodborne illnesses. For example, in a recent survey of Salmonella on New Zealand egg layer farms, Joanne compared genomic sequences of Salmonella isolates and demonstrated that isolates arising from the same farm were genetically related, suggesting persistent populations on the farms rather than multiple independent introductions. Egg packhouse isolates were also genetically related to laying shed isolates from the same farm, supporting that cross-contamination between the laying shed and packhouse was occurring.
At Duke University, Joanne’s research employed molecular and genetic approaches to study antifungal therapeutic strategies, fungal pathogenesis and cancer-relevant cell signalling pathways. Much of her work has utilised the model yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Yeast is best known for its roles in baking and fermentation, and has also become a valuable tool in science to better understand how more complex cells function. In rare cases, yeast can also cause disease. Joanne has also worked with the clinically relevant fungi Candida albicans, Cryptococcus neoformans, which cause life-threatening systemic infections; as well as Trichophyton and Malassezia, which cause common skin afflictions such as nail infections, ringworm, dermatitis, and dandruff. At ESR, Joanne continues to be interested in the relevance of fungi to food safety, and environmental and human health. While fungi may be beneficial to the food industry, playing roles in fermentation or comprising food themselves (mushrooms), fungi may also contaminate food, producing “mycotoxins,” or cause spoilage. Fungi also play many and varied beneficial roles in maintaining healthy ecosystems; yet, also have the potential to cause animal and human infections.
Joanne is also a collaborator in the multi-institute, MBIE-funded Aotearoa Impacts and Mitigation of Microplastics (AIM2) project that explores the impact of microplastics and the threat to New Zealand’s ecosystems, animals and people. She is interested in using next-generation and classical microbiological methods to understand the “plastisphere”; microbial communities associated with plastic substrates. A particular area of focus will be isolating and characterising bacteria and fungi with the potential to biodegrade plastic polymers.