Dr Adrian Cookson
- Senior Scientist
- Place of Work
Adrian currently manages a number of research projects, including the Alternative Antimicrobials Programme which focuses on the digestive systems of ruminant animals such as sheep and cattle.
Adrian's work helps explain how the ruminant digestive system makes use of many bacteria living in the rumen to help digest food. Scientists in this research team are specifically looking to find any molecules that are produced by these beneficial rumen bacteria that may also inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria. One of these molecules has shown some promise and the team is currently looking at ways that this molecule might be commercialised for use in livestock industries.
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Every day brings new challenges and opportunities ...
One of the other projects Adrian is involved with focuses on the role of microorganisms in ruminant digestion. The bacteria that live in the digestive system help digest food by producing enzymes which digest plant matter. In this team, Adrian’s team are trying to find the most efficient plant-digesting enzymes and then trace them back through the bacteria that made them to the genes that code for them. This knowledge could be used to increase the efficiency of ruminant digestion by inoculating them with the more efficient bacterial strains identified by the research. This would mean that, for example, a cow would be able to get more nutrition from the grass it eats, therefore producing more milk.
Certain microorganisms that live in the gut of both humans and animals are thought to be of benefit to the overall gut function; many of them are incorporated into dairy products or yoghurts. Another project that Adrian is involved in is to discover new molecules produced by harmless gut bacteria that are important in maintaining gut health. Using laboratory assays he and his team hope to identify the health-promoting chemicals that these microorganisms produce and incorporate the bacteria and/or the health-promoting molecules into new foods or animal feedstuffs.
Being involved with these projects and others means that Adrian needs to be able to manage time effectively. He says that it is important to plan thoroughly and use resources (especially time) effectively, but “All the hard work involved with the planning is worthwhile when a piece of work or set of experiments is successfully completed to give us some good data.”
As well as carrying out scientific experiments and helping to analyse results produced by scientists in his team, Adrian spends an increasing amount of time talking with different companies that are interested in the commercialisation of the science. Adrian has had to develop good relationships with business managers and the legal profession (especially Patent Attorneys) to ensure that the optimum value for commercialisation of science can be obtained. No two days are the same and every day brings new challenges and opportunities for learning and developing.
Adrian tries to work in the lab as much as he can, which he still likes best, but he feels lucky that he’s able to interact with a diverse set of people on a number of different projects who he says all have lots of good ideas. Occasionally, a conference comes up where Adrian might be able to present some of his work, and this has meant some exciting overseas travel opportunities to discuss work and develop collaborations with other groups from New Zealand and overseas.
Adrian focussed on science subjects at school and then did a Microbiology degree at the University of Manchester (U.K.). It was during this time that he got interested in bacteriology and molecular biology. During his university holidays, he worked in a Patent and Trade Mark Agency which has provided him with useful background experience for his current interactions with Patent Attorneys. After completing his first degree, Adrian stayed on at Manchester to do a PhD investigating at the bacteria that inhabit the mouth and how they stick to the tooth’s surface or gums, or even to each other.
After his PhD Adrian worked in a veterinary research laboratory for 5 years acquiring new technical skills and learning how develop his own research programmes. He was studying a pathogenic type of E. coli bacteria, harmless in cattle and sheep but the cause of disease in humans. (Adrian has found these same types of pathogenic E. coli in cattle and sheep in New Zealand, and has shown that some of them are the same as the E. coli that have caused certain diarrhoeal cases. He is now interested in producing new vaccines to prevent cattle from excreting the harmful bacteria and preventing contamination of the carcass during processing.)
After a holiday out to New Zealand, Adrian was awarded a position at AgResearch in 2001 to identify new antimicrobial molecules from rumen bacteria.
Adrian was awarded the ‘Young Biotechnologist of the Year’ award in 2006. This was in recognition of his efforts in the commercialisation of molecules from rumen bacteria. Adrian says ‘It was a great honour receiving the award, but it’s a reflection of the hard work that many people have put into the programme.’ Adrian hopes that this award might help attract funding to identify new bacterial molecules that have beneficial effects in the pastoral sector.
Adrian enjoys getting outside - mountain biking, tramping, running etc. Adrian likes to push himself to the limit. In previous years he has biked around Lake Taupo but he has no plans to enter any triathlons as he says he swims like a brick. Since he’s been in New Zealand he’s got married and had a house built on 4 acres of land just outside Palmerston North. He is enjoying the challenge of gardening on his steep gully property.
- 14 November 2007