Hello, my name is Pravech Ajawatanawong. In short, you can call me "Ping." It is my nickname, and my friends and colleagues call me that. I am working as an assistant professor at the Division of Medical Bioinformatics, Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, Thailand. My academic background is in microbiology, particularly evolutionary microbiology.
Microbial diversity is a fantastic outcome of evolution through natural selection. The process itself is very complex and fascinating in the description. One of the powerful tools biologists use to reveal the evolutionary pathway is molecular phylogeny study also uses molecular phylogeny to display the hidden variety of dictyostelid social amoebae in Thailand, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, and Leptospira spp. My current research involves three main areas: microbial diversity, bacterial genomics, and microbial phylogenetics.
Dictyostelid social amoebae, sometimes known as "cellular slime molds," are the most common eukaryotic microorganisms in soil. These microorganisms are essential in nutrient cycling and bacterial population control on the ground. They typically exist as single cell amoeba that feeds on bacteria via phagocytosis. When the food supply runs out, they can send a chemical signal that causes the many amoebae to combine into a multicellular slug-like creature. Once the slug has relocated to a suitable location, it will grow into a fungal-like reproductive structure known as a "sorocarp." Although we were aware of about 150 species, the actual variety in nature is expected to be highly varied. My team and I spent years traveling to several places to collect soil samples and back to the lab to isolate dictyostelids. We build a culture collection of these microbes (more than 400 isolates throughout the country and neighboring countries). A phylogenetic study of those Thai isolates indicated that Dictyostelia in Thailand is unknown and unique, and most might be new species.
Leptospira is a genic name of a bacterial spirochete within the Spirochete Phylum. These bacteria were recently reclassified into three clades––pathogenic, intermediate, and saprophytic––based on their ability to cause disease. Leptospira spp. in the pathogenic and intermediate clades can cause severe and mild leptospirosis, respectively. On the other hand, the saprophytic Leptospira is a cluster of non-pathogenic leptospire. We are running a genome sequencing project of 100 Thai Leptospira isolates from several culture collections in Thailand. We are also looking for new collaborators who would like to work on these bacteria's genome evolution and systematics.
Dr. Pasookhush (Nath) is a postdoctoral researcher in my group. He is working on the phylogenetic diversity of Thai dictyostelids and taking care of the genome sequencing project of these microbes. The genome project aims to search for novel enzymes, such as lysozyme. He is well-rounded, enthusiastic, and versatile.
Dr. Saisuk (Paan) joined my team as a postdoctoral researcher in June 2021. He has a solid academic foundation in Immunology. He is a humble, energetic guy interested in bioinformatics and bacterial genomics. He is working on the genome evolution of Leptospira spp. and developing a molecular diagnostic for Leptospira.
Dr. Krittima (Lin) joined my team in January 2022 as a bioinformatician. Her background is in genetics and statistics. The research she is handling involves the evolution of DNA tandem repeats in bacteria and soil metagenomics. She has a friendly personality, sympathy, calmness, and maturity.
Mr. Jammor (Pond) is a new research assistant joined our team in November 2023. He has a strong background in biochemistry and molecular biology of proteins. His projects involve the evolution of either protein or DNA indels (insertions/deletions). This could be a set of evolutionarily informative markers.
Usmani was a master's student in the Microbiology Program at the Faculty of Science, Mahidol University. He came from Afghanistan and joined us in 2014. He searched for a good pair of primers for a single-strand conformation polymorphism (SSCP) technique for Dictyostelia as his master's degree thesis.
Namfon was a master's student who graduated in 2019. She did her thesis on the phylogenetic diversity of dictyostelid social amoebae in the northeastern Thailand, particular in Amnat Charoen province. She found at least seven genera of dictyostelids throughout the region. Of those seven genera, there were 17 strains of dictyostelids identified by 18S rRNA gene phylogeny.
We have five students join our research team. Four of them–Kwan (ขวัญ), Non (นนท์), Gus (กัส), and Aon (อ้อน)–came from King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT). They are in the third year of the Microbiology program and will be the last year of their undergrad. The last one is Nat-นัท. He came from Sirindhorn International Institute of Technology (SIIT).
The first group of internship students when I start my job at the Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, MU. We have six students from the Faculty of Microbiology, King Mongkut's University of Technology Thonburi (KMUTT) requested to work with us for about two months.