THE 2020 LEMBERG MEDAL: TREVOR LITHGOW
Department of Microbiology and Monash Biomedicine Discovery Institute
Professor Trevor Lithgow graduated with a PhD in Biochemistry from La Trobe University in 1992. In 1993, he was awarded a Long-Term Fellowship from the Human Frontiers Science Program and moved to a postdoctoral position with Professor Gottfried (Jeff) Schatz at the University of Basel. In an unforgettable time in Switzerland; he worked to identify the components of the TOM complex, the key factor required in mitochondria for protein import and thereby organelle biogenesis. Ten papers were published on the discovery of the protein import receptors Tom20/Mas19 and Tom22/Mas22, including a paper in Nature reconstituting the initial steps of protein import and a review in Trends in Biochemical Sciences that set the model for how receptor cooperativity delivers protein substrates to the TOM complex, a fascinating molecular machine. In 1999, Lithgow was awarded the HFSP Tenth Anniversary Award that recognised the top ten Research Fellows in the first ten years of the Human Frontiers Science Program. A capstone to these discoveries came with recent work on the high-resolution structural analysis of the TOM complex published in three papers in Science, Molecular Cell and Nature.
In 1996, Lithgow was recruited to La Trobe University to start his own laboratory, and in 1999 the lab moved to the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Melbourne. In teaching, he developed three new subjects in Molecular Biology: a third year Molecular Aspects of Cell Biology unit, a multidisciplinary second year subject Integrated Biomedical Sciences I, and the Department’s first molecular cloning practical subject that used PCR, cDNA library screening and bioinformatic analysis to train approximately 150 students per year in these core techniques and the concepts for which they provide evidence.
In 2008, Lithgow was awarded an ARC Federation Fellowship to build capacity for studying host–pathogen interactions at Monash University. In 2014, he took up an ARC Laureate Fellowship to develop nanoscale imaging approaches to investigate bacterial cell biology. This included developing applications of single particle cryoEM, neutron reflectrometry, atomic force microscopy and super-resolution imaging of bacterial cells. The fundamental discoveries from this work include how bacterial outer membranes are assembled and the intracellular complexity of the bacterial cytoplasm and periplasm. Lithgow also led the NHMRC Program in Cellular Microbiology that used the fundamental knowledge of bacterial cell biology to better understand mechanisms of antibiotic resistance, the mechanics driving entry of bacteriophage into bacteria and the mechanisms by which phages control host cell biology. In 2010, he was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.
In 2020, Professor Lithgow was appointed as Director of the Centre to Impact AMR, in order to find sustainable solutions to the growing and global problem of antimicrobial resistance.