Primary research interest

Clinical protozoology

Personal website

Professor Peter O'Donoghue's website

About me

Following my doctorate in Adelaide in 1979, I was an Alexander von Humboldt Research Fellow in Germany from 1980-82, then a Research Scientist in the Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science in Adelaide until 1994 when I joined the University of Queensland as Parasitologist (specializing in protozoology). I completed a GCEd in tertiary teaching and won an Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2000, an Australian Award for University Teaching in Biological Sciences, Health and Related Studies and was a joint winner of the Prime-Minister’s Award for University Teacher of the Year in 2002. I was awarded a DSc by the University of Queensland in 2005 for my studies on protozoan diseases of humans and animals, and was elected a Fellow of the Australian Society for Parasitology in 2006.

Research focus and collaborations

My area of specialisation is clinical protozoology and I practice as a diagnostician; i.e. I identify protozoan parasites in vertebrate hosts. My goal is to characterize those species occurring in Australia. My studies are deliberately parochial as our continent is simply the last great unexplored bastion for micro-fauna. Little is known about protozoa in the gut, blood and tissues of our unique native animals.

I seek to define the morphology, biology, phylogeny and pathogenicity of protozoan species endemic in Australian hosts, including sporozoa, ciliates, flagellates and amoebae in mammals, birds, reptiles and fish. My research involves studying parasite form and function as well as host-parasite interactions resulting in disease. I apply conventional and contemporary technologies to study organismal, cellular and molecular biology, including light and electron microscopy, biochemical and immunological assays, protein profiling and nucleotide analyses.

I have specialized in five major areas of research: cyst-forming sporozoa in humans and domestic animals (esp. abortifacients); enteric coccidia in humans and wildlife (diarrhoeal diseases); protozoa affecting aquaculture (those causing lesions); endosymbiotic protozoa in herbivores (vital to ‘rumen’ ecosystems); and protozoal biodiversity (species richness).

Teaching interests

Foundational (enabling) sciences, preclinical microbiology, applied parasitology.

Achievements and awards

  • Fellow, Australian Society for Parasitology Inc.
  • Life Member, Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows
  • Member, Water Quality & Vet Lab Testing, National Association of Testing Authorities (NATA)
  • Member, Teaching and Learning Committee, School of Chemistry & Molecular Biosciences, UQ
  • Chief Departmental Examiner, School of Chemistry & Molecular Biosciences, UQ

Selected publications

Researcher biography

Clinical protozoology.

My area of specialization is clinical protozoology and I practice essentially as a diagnostician; i.e. I detect and study unicellular protozoan parasites infecting vertebrate hosts. I have long been fascinated by their extreme biodiversity as manifest by considerable variation in their structure, function and mode of existence. The prevailing theme of my research is to discover and describe protozoan species in Australian animals. My studies are deliberately parochial as our continent is simply the last great unexplored bastion for micro-fauna. Little is known about protozoa in the gut, blood and tissues of native mammals, birds, reptiles and fish. I seek to define the morphology, biology, historical zoogeography and pathogenicity of endemic protozoan species. I want to know their identity, origins and interactions with their hosts. Despite the diversity of hosts sampled, I confine my studies to four main protozoan assemblages: flagellates, amoebae, ciliates and sporozoa. I have detected a high degree of endemicity of these groups in Australian vertebrates suggesting their evolution in long isolation.

I determine the cellular and subcellular structure of protozoan isolates, explore their developmental cycles and examine their pathogenicity. I employ special techniques in light and electron microscopy, biochemical and immunological assays and protein and nucleic acid analyses. I evaluate morphological and molecular characters for the differential diagnosis of species and to provide reliable markers for biological traits of clinical and epidemiological significance. I determine relationships between the site of infection, parasite pathogenicity, host specificity and mode of transmission. Many protozoan species have fast life-cycles which out-race host immune responses. They invade host tissues, proliferate rapidly and then exit the host as encysted stages infective to other hosts. Resultant diseases are therefore often rapid, acute and severe. Other protozoan species have slow life-cycles where they hide in host tissues to optimize their chances of being taken up by predators or invertebrate vectors. These species cause protracted, chronic diseases often characterized by space-occupying lesions. Effective treatment and control relies on a thorough knowledge of the parasites involved, their effects on their hosts and the epidemiology of infections.