Dr Victoria Haritos: discovering new enzymes and engineering proteins for biofuel and bioproduct applications
Dr Victoria Haritos studies the biochemistry of insects and other organisms to discover novel processes and products for biotechnological applications.
5 August 2008 | Updated 25 October 2012
Dr Victoria Haritos is Team Leader for CSIRO Entomology Division’s Biological Chemistry Team which includes research projects on:
lipid metabolising enzymes - lipases, desaturases
lignocellulose degrading enzymes - cellulases, hemicellulases
carbon dioxide capture enzymes.
The lipid metabolising research project lies within the Crop Biofactories Initiative, a joint initiative of the Grains Research and Development Corporation and three CSIRO Divisions:
Molecular and Health Sciences.
Dr Haritos' research is providing the enabling technologies to grow a bioindustries sector.
Dr Haritos’ research group uses molecular biology to discover genes for lipid metabolising proteins and study their structure and functions. They are also interested in the diversity and evolutionary relationship of the genes.
Lipids provide energy for insect flight, development and metamorphosis, and pheromone production. Waxes and hydrocarbons in the insect cuticle provide protection from desiccation and predators.
Lignocellulose degrading enzymes are studied as part of the Biofuels Stream in the Energy Transformed Flagship which aims to increase the efficiency of conversion of plant materials like wood, leaves, straw into biofuels like ethanol.
Lowering the cost of carbon dioxide capture from coal-fired power station flue gas is a difficult challenge and the Biological Chemistry team is investigating the use of enzymes in the process. Enzymes are attractive because they can operate at very fast rates under mild conditions to conduct processes that may otherwise require high energy inputs. This project forms part of the Postcombustion Carbon Dioxide Capture Stream in the Energy Transformed Flagship.
Dr Haritos joined CSIRO Entomology in 1998 as a research scientist working the Stored Grain Research Laboratory. She applied her research and regulatory experience in human and insect toxicology to the development of new and safer grain fumigants to replace the ozone-depleting chemical, methyl bromide.
Dr Haritos also investigated gas exchange (respiration) in stored grain insects which is an important route of fumigant uptake. Using sensitive techniques they have been able to measure the respiratory response of single tiny insects to fumigant exposures.
In 2004, Dr Haritos established projects in novel protein biomaterials – silks and hydrogels – discovered from insects and other invertebrates as part of the Crop Biofactories Initiative. The investigation has lead to the discovery of the genes and proteins of several new classes of insect silks, some with superior properties.
Dr Haritos holds the following qualifications:
Bachelor of Science with Honours in Organic Chemistry from the University of Adelaide, South Australia, 1983
Master of Science in Toxicology, from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) University, 1992
Doctor of Philosophy, RMIT University, 2000.
Dr Haritos has received the following CSIRO awards:
Service from Science, 2005. Dr Haritos lead a team that successfully developed a fast acting new fumigant VAPORMATE™, to protect grain from pest insects
One CSIRO Award, 2004, as a member of the team that successfully negotiated the Crop Biofactories Initiative.
Read more about research into Bioindustries in CSIRO Entomology.