ARC invests more than $7M in IMB research

18 Nov 2014

Researchers at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience have received more than $7 million from the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) November funding round to pursue discoveries in a range of health and agriculture areas.

IMB received 11 Discovery Projects, 2 Discovery Early Career Researcher Awards and 2 Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) grants.

IMB Director Professor Brandon Wainwright congratulated all recipients and thanked the ARC for its support of Queensland research.

“Each year, the ARC invests in the most promising research on behalf of the Australian community.

“As trusted recipients of this funding, we will ensure our research delivers outcomes of benefit to society, industry and the environment,” Professor Wainwright said.

Discovery Project highlights

Protecting Australia’s coral reefs
Professor Mark Ragan and Dr Cheong Xin Chan (along with Professor Debashish Bhattacharya from Rutgers University, USA) aim to sequence the genomes of Symbiodinium from reef corals and other hosts to determine the evolution and biodiversity of our iconic Great Barrier Reef. They hope to use this knowledge to develop new management strategies, such as restoration and transplantation, to preserve Australia’s Great Barrier Reef in the face of climate variations.

Insights into Chlamydia infections
Chlamydia is the most prevalent sexually transmitted disease in the world, and its incidence has quadrupled in Australia over the last decade. Unfortunately, our understanding about why these bacteria are becoming so prevalent is limited. Associate Professor Rohan Teasdale and Dr Markus Kerr are working to understand how Chlamydia survives and replicates, which they hope will inspire future treatments.

Converting plants into biofactories for insecticides and drugs
Professor David Craik and his team hope to manufacture peptides in plants to produce insecticides and drugs at low cost and in an environmentally sustainable way. To achieve this, Professor Craik aims to discover how these peptides can be made in plants, and determine their safety and efficacy.

Engineering the vascular system
Dr Ben Hogan and his lab (along with Associate Professor Natasha Harvey from The University of Adelaide) are studying how the vascular system develops using zebrafish as a model. Understanding the earliest development of the vascular system from veins could lead to new biotechnology applications for tissue engineering, stem cell differentiation and tissue regeneration.

Producing solar fuels from microalgae
Professor Ben Hankamer and his team (along with Professor Thomas Happe from Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany) aim to develop microalgae fuel systems to drive solar powered hydrogen production from water. Such technology will increase fuel security, reduce CO2 emissions, and promote regional development.

Making peptide-based drugs more accessible
Proteins and peptides have the potential to be fantastic therapies as they are often more effective and show fewer side effects than traditional small molecule drugs, which can be taken in pill form. However, the challenge with protein-based drugs is that they currently have to be injected to work effectively. Professor David Fairlie and his lab are developing a new technology to downsize proteins into small, orally active peptides that will open up new treatment opportunities for a range of diseases.

Flipping the switch on sex determination
Professor Peter Koopman and his lab are working to understand the processes that flip the switch on whether human embryos will develop as male or female. Understanding these key developmental pathways could help with wildlife conservation, livestock breeding and even pest management.

Developing new technologies based on tailor-made protein signalling pathways 
Professor Kirill Alexandrov and his lab hope to develop a new technology that will consist of tailor-made proteins connected by complex artificial signalling pathways. These artificial signalling networks could be used to develop diagnostic tools with the ability to detect small molecules, nucliec acids, fats, and proteins, or be used to monitor chemicals, biotechnological products, or pollutants.

Understanding how mechanical force contributes to vessel formation
Dr Ben Hogan and Professor Alpha Yap will explore how cellular force contributes to vessel (blood or lymphatic) formation in the embryo using zebrafish imaging. This has the potential to one-day be used in tissue-engineering to repair or replace damaged vessels.

Exploring the cell surface for new insights into disease
Dr Brett Collins and Professor Rob Parton aim to understand how the ‘little caves’ on the surface of cells in the body are formed. By obtaining high-resolution pictures of critical parts of these caves and understanding how they interact, the researchers hope to gain new insights into cancer, lipid storage and muscle diseases.

Sensing cellular tension to maintain healthy tissues
Professor Alpha Yap and his team aim to understand how tissues use mechanical tension to recognise and adhere to one another and preserve their integrity. It will expand on our current understanding of cell-cell interactions in the body and has future implications for developmental biology and tissue engineering, including how healthy tissues are disturbed in diseases such as cancer.

Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities grant highlights include:

- funding to support high-resolution electron microscopy (Professor Ben Hankamer, Dr Michael Landsberg, Professor Rob Parton
- funding to support a multi-omics platform for molecular evolution and developmental biology (Professor Mark Ragan, Dr Lachlan CoinProfessor Melissa Little).

Discovery Early Career Researcher Award highlights include:

- funding to support Dr Markus Muttenthaler (Alewood Lab) to explore the potential of peptides in animal venom to develop molecular tools, diagnostics and therapeutics for neuropathic pain, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases
- funding to support Dr Alex Combes (Little Lab) in dissecting the roles of transient stem cell populations on kidney development using advanced imaging technologies, with the hope of one-day developing new approaches to treat kidney disease.


Media contact: Gemma Ward, IMB Communications Manager, (07) 3346 2134 or