UQ scientists elected to top national body

26 Mar 2008

Two University of Queensland researchers have been acknowledged as being among the country's top scientists after being elected Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science. 

Professor Peter Koopman and Professor John Mattick, AO, both from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) at UQ, were recognised by the Academy for significantly advancing, and continuing to advance, the world's scientific knowledge. 

Professor Koopman was elected for his work on mammalian embryonic development, while Professor Mattick was elected for his research into the structure of genetic systems in higher organisms. 

“I am proud and delighted, but not surprised, that Professors Koopman and Mattick have been honoured in this way,” IMB Director Professor Brandon Wainwright said. “They are both outstanding researchers whose discoveries have fundamentally altered their fields of science.” 

Professor Koopman was part of the team that discovered the SRY gene, which determines gender in mammals, hailed as one of the most important breakthroughs of the 20th century. In 2006 he led a team of scientists that identified the molecular trigger that causes females to produce eggs and males to produce sperm. 

In addition to these world-leading discoveries, Professor Koopman and his team have also identified a large number of important genes such as Sox9, a critical gene for skeletal development, and Sox18, a major control gene for blood vessel and lymphatic development. 

In 2007, Professor Koopman received an Australian Research Council (ARC) Federation Fellowship, a five-year fellowship awarded annually to a select few Australian researchers. He has received numerous awards, including the 2007 GlaxoSmithKline Award for Research Excellence, one of the country's most prestigious research awards. 

Professor John Mattick's research is challenging the orthodox scientific view that 95 percent of our DNA is accumulated evolutionary ‘junk' and serves no purpose. Instead, he is showing that this DNA, most of which is transcribed into non-coding RNA, consists of a hidden layer of gene regulation that directs the development of complex organisms. 

Professor Mattick, together with Professor Peter Andrews, established the IMB and served as a Director of the Institute from its founding in 2000 until he stepped down in December 2005 to concentrate on his research. In his six years directing the IMB, Professor Mattick steered it from being a fledging institute to one of the country's leading molecular research centres. 

"I am delighted and honoured to join the Academy, and look forward to joining my colleagues to advance the cause and benefits of science in our society," Professor Mattick said. 

He was awarded an ARC Federation Fellowship in 2005, and was named as an Officer in the Order of Australia in 2001. Professor Mattick has received a number of awards including the 2006 Eureka Prize for Leadership, Honorary Fellowship of the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia in 2003 and Associate (Foreign) Membership of the European Molecular Biology Organisation in 2007, an honour accorded to only about 80 scientists worldwide. 

An Adjunct Professor in the School of Medicine at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, Professor Nick Martin, who is the Senior Principal Research Scientist of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, was also elected a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science. He was distinguished for his work on psychology: genetics of human behaviour and complex diseases. 

Media contacts: 
Professor Peter Koopman – 07 3346 2059

Professor John Mattick – 07 3346 2079

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