IMB collaborates with world-renowned genetic expert

8 Nov 2004

Researchers from The University of Queensland's IMB will collaborate with Dr Craig Venter, the US scientist who helped crack the human genetic code, during his six-month visit to Queensland as part of his quest to define the origins and diversity of life.

Dr Venter and a research team from the Venter Institute are circling the globe in his yacht and floating laboratory, Sorcerer II, to collect marine samples and analyse their genetic data. Australia is the 14th country the team has visited.

Working with leading bioinformatic and genetic researchers, Dr Venter will spend the next six months in Queensland waters, in particular the Great Barrier Reef, to analyse samples using high-throughput DNA sequencing and whole-genome shotgun assembly techniques developed to decode the human genome.

The IMB will host Dr Venter and his team during their time in Queensland.

Dr Venter said little was known about microbial life.

"The field of environmental genomics has the potential to revolutionise the way our oceans, soil, and whole ecosystems and environments are studied," he said.

"By taking relatively small samples of water or soil and using the tools and techniques of shotgun sequence analysis, we are able to identify and characterise the vast legions of unseen organisms living in the environment.

"It is estimated that over 99 percent of species remain to be discovered," he said. 

Dr Venter said he appreciated the opportunity to collaborate with UQ, which offered world-class scientific expertise, first-rate facilities and a great location. 

IMB Director Professor John Mattick said Australia, and particularly Queensland, were a vital part of Dr Venter's expedition because of its megadiversity.

"We've got warm tropical waters in northern Queensland, temperate oceans around Tasmania and our continent is a launching pad to the Antarctic waters," Professor Mattick said.

UQ Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Greenfield said The University of Queensland was delighted to host Dr Venter and his team for the next six months.

"Dr Venter is basing himself in Brisbane because he believes Queensland is attracting international attention as an emerging regional centre for biomolecular research and biotechnology industries, not unlike Singapore and Seattle," Professor Greenfield said. 

"Queensland is gaining this reputation and attracting scientists of the calibre of Dr Venter because of the work done by research institutes such as the IMB at UQ and because of support from the State Government, whose backing has enabled UQ to develop cutting-edge facilities and gather a critical mass of leading scientists."

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, who will meet Dr Venter next week, said Queensland, as the Smart State, was delighted to host Dr Venter.

"Dr Venter has been sailing the oceans of the world since August last year collecting microbes from sea water as part of his quest to ‘sequence the genome of Mother Earth' and will be basing himself at The University of Queensland for six months because of our reputation for molecular research," Mr Beattie said.

"Dr Venter is not only one of the world's most eminent genomic researchers, he is also a successful entrepreneur who has used a reported $100 million of his personal fortune to create his own not-for profit research organisation which employs 200 scientists.

"I invite Dr Venter to not only study our microbes but to examine our world-class research organisations and consider partnering us in research or setting up a branch of his organisation in Queensland." 

Dr Venter will address a public seminar at the IMB at UQ's St Lucia campus on Wednesday, November 10, before travelling to Cairns to speak at the AUSBIO satellite conference on Thursday, November 11.