Primary research interest

Evolutionary genetics and genomics of parasitic arthropods

Research focus and collaborations

I study the ticks of Australia and elsewhere (33 papers published). My latest publication is a book, “Ticks of Australia. The species that infest domestic animals and humans”. This book is available open-access online (see Featured publications, below) and as a hard copy via Magnolia Press, the publisher of Zootaxa (144 pages, 70 figures).

I am also an international expert on clinical trials of methods to control body lice and head lice. Body lice transmit to people Borrelia recurrentis, a spirochaete bacterium that causes epidemic-relapsing-fever. Epidemic-relapsing-fever is usually fatal if not treated. Epidemic-relapsing-fever is often one of the top 10 reasons for admission to hospital in the Horn of Africa, particularly Ethiopia. I also study the evolution of mitochondrial and nuclear genomes in ticks and lice.


  • Meseret Alem, MSc in Tropical & Infectious diseases, University of Gondar,  College of Medicine and Health Sciences, School of Biomedical and Laboratory Sciences, Gondar, Ethiopia. Louse-borne relapsing fever and its vector, the body louse
  • Dr Kassahun Bilcha MD, University of Gondar, College of Medicine and Health Sciences, Department of Dermatology and Venereology, Gondar, Ethiopia.  Louse-borne relapsing fever and its vector, the body louse
  • Jemal Ali, University of Gondar, College of Medicine and Health Sciences, Department of Microbiology Immunology and Parasitology, Gondar, Ethiopia. Louse-borne relapsing fever and its vector, the body louse
  • Professor Didier Raoult, University of the Mediterranean, Marseille, France.  Louse-borne relapsing fever and its vector, the body louse
  • Professor Richard Pollack, University of Harvard, School of Public Health
  • Professor Marcelo Labruna, University of Sao Paulo, Brazil
  • Dr Renfu Shao, University of Sunshine Coast, Qld
  • Professor Zhihong Li, China Agricultural University Beijing, Department of Entomology, College of Agronomy and Biotechnology. Psocoptera Mitochondrial Genome Characteristics, Evolution and Its Phylogenetics.
  • Alan R. Walker, Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies, Edinburgh, Scotland

Funded projects

  • UniQuest: Efficacy of medicines for the control of ectoparasites
  • Australian Research Council Discovery: Shao, Wenyi and Barker
  • National Science Foundation of China (NSFC)

Teaching interests 

Genetics, Genomics and Parasitology especially PARA3002 (Biomedical Parasitology), which I have coordinated for 25 years.

Achievements and awards

  • Resident Scientist at Durack State School, western Brisbane. I have been the resident scientist at this school for 12 years.
  • Engagement with families of primary-school aged children on the control of head lice eg Inaugural National Head Lice Awareness Day – Fri 4 February 2011.

Student supervision

Available projects:

  • New diagnostics for the Ixodes ticks of Australasia: the current diagnostic guide to the 22 species of Ixodes ticks in Australasia is was made half a century ago and and is woefully inadequate. A new diagnostic guide for the Ixodes ticks of Australasia, that coimbines genetic and morphological diagnostics is feasible and needed
  • Assembly of the genome sequence of the head louse, Pediculus capitis: in 2010, my colleagues and I sequenced, assembled and annotated the nuclear genome of the body louse, Pediculus humanus (Kirkness et al. PNAS 107, 12168-12173). Last year we sequenced the genome of sister-species of the body louse, the head louse Pediculus capitis. This genomes is remarkle because it is so small for a metazoan animal (ca. 110 megabases) and because the introns are few and short in this genome
  • Phylogeny of soft ticks: join the International Tick Tree of Life Project. Phylogeny (evolutionary history) of ticks predicted from the nucleotide sequences (mitochondrial and SSU rRNA). Students will sequence part of the mitochondrial genomes of 1 or 2 interesting ticks from Africa and then use a computer to predict the evolutionary tree of the ticks

Featured publications