European honour for Queensland scientist

20 Nov 2007

A Queensland scientist has been elected as a member of one of the world's most respected scientific organizations, the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO). 

Professor John Mattick, from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) at The University of Queensland, was one of only eight scientists to be offered Associate Membership of EMBO in 2007. 

EMBO draws together top researchers from the molecular life sciences in Europe to promote excellence through targeted programmes and activities. Members, of which 42 were elected this year, come from European countries, while Associate Membership is a special honour available to outstanding researchers from outside of Europe. 

“There are only three Australians listed among 80 Associate Members worldwide, many of whom are among the most outstanding molecular biologists of their generation, so I am delighted to be included,” Professor Mattick said. 

Professor Mattick has been internationally recognised for his work on so-called “junk DNA”, the 98.5 percent of our DNA which does not code for proteins and until recently was thought to be accumulated evolutionary debris. 

Professor Mattick's research is focussed on exploring the idea that this DNA actually functions as a sophisticated regulatory system that directs the differentiation and development of humans and other complex organisms. 

“It appears that the genetic programming of complex organisms has been fundamentally misunderstood for the past 50 years, because of the assumption that most genes encode proteins,” Professor Mattick said. 

“This is largely true in simple organisms like bacteria, but turning out not to be the case for complex multicellular organisms, where the vast majority of genetic information is expressed as RNA. 

“This RNA appears to control gene expression at many levels, including epigenetic memory and intersection with environmental information, which is particularly important in the brain.” 

His election as an Associate Member of EMBO is a tribute to Professor Mattick's significant contribution to the advancement of science, and will allow him to establish stronger connections with top European molecular scientists, as well as help shape the future of EMBO. 

“EMBO Members contribute in numerous ways to the organisation's activities and are integral to our international reputation for promoting excellence in molecular biology,” EMBO Executive Director Hermann Bujard said in EMBO's announcement. 

“We welcome these 50 exceptional scientists to the EMBO community and look forward to their input.” 

Professor Jerry Adams and Professor Suzanne Cory from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute in Melbourne were also elected as Associate Members. 

Media contacts: 
Professor John Mattick – 07 3346 2079

Bronwyn Adams, IMB Communications – 07 3346 2134 or 0418 575 247