IMB highly successful in Australian research funding

1 Nov 2011

Researchers from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience have received $5.62 million from the Australian Research Council in their major annual funding round for projects including investigating chemicals that could lead to new antibiotics, male sexual development and producing drugs in plants.

IMB was successful in obtaining 11 Discovery projects, 3 industry linkage projects and 2 equipment grants for an average success rate of 50 percent in Discovery projects, compared to a national average of 21.95 percent.

Professor Rob Capon will use a $300,00 Discovery grant to identify new natural chemicals from microbes that kill bacteria and thus could aid in developing new types of antibiotics to treat multi-drug resistant bacteria.

“The development of new drugs is essential to improve and replace treatments that have become less effective,” Professor Capon said. “Nowhere is this more evident than in the case of infectious diseases, where rapidly emerging drug resistance has severely degraded the therapeutic value of existing antibiotics.

“One group of microbes, actinomycetes, are the source of more than half the antibiotics on the market today, as well as important anti-cancer and immunosuppressive drugs.

“By examining more microbes, we are hopeful of identifying more chemicals that could inform the design of antibiotics and other therapeutic drugs.”

Professor Peter Koopman was awarded $510,000 to investigate how the Y chromosome directs male development and identify steps that can go wrong.

“Variations from typical sexual development occur in approximately 1 in 200 human births, far higher than the frequency of any other inherited disorder,” Professor Koopman said. “Some of these variations not only place a significant burden on our healthcare system, but on an individual level can cause infertility as well as severely impacting on quality of life.”

The project will also be useful in livestock management and pest control, as it will identify genetic control points that can be targeted in agricultural animals to produce more males or females as needed in different industries, for example, more males in cattle for the beef industry.

This technology could also be used to alter the gender ratios of pest populations in order to control their numbers, or conversely in endangered species to boost their population.

Dr Josh Mylne will lead a $430,000 project with Dr Karl Rosengren from UQ and Dr Suga Hiroaki from the University of Tokyo.

“We recently discovered in sunflowers a small protein ring that chemists have based drugs on for a decade,” Dr Mylne said.

“We want to learn how sunflowers make it so we can manipulate other plants to manufacture ring-based drugs. Traditional drug manufacturing is very expensive, and growing drugs in plants represents a cheap alternative.”

“Not only would this result in less expensive treatments, but seed-based drugs could be stored and transported much more easily, which is particularly important in developing nations.”

Other IMB researchers to receive Discovery grants were:

  • Professor Kirill Alexandrov - $280,000 to develop new approaches to analyse complex protein machines using a combination of in vitro protein expression and single molecule spectroscopy,

  • Dr Brett Collins and Professor Rob Parton - $280,000 to investigate how a newly-discovered family of proteins generate sections of the plasma membrane, a crucial barrier between the cell and the outside world,

  • Professor Richard Lewis - $270,000 to study a transporter protein involved in the nervous system that could lead to drugs with less side effects,

  • Professor John Mattick - $500,000 to test whether the modification of RNA sequences, normally hardwired in our genome, underpins the brain’s extraordinary plasticity and ability to learn,

  • Dr Ryan Taft and Professor John Mattick - $480,000 to understand how tiny RNAs control the dynamic structure of our genome in response to developmental and environmental cues,

  • Associate Professor Rohan Teasdale and Dr Brett Collins - $330,000 to study how proteins transport other molecules around the cell, a critical process the disruption of which can lead to many human diseases,

  • Professor Alpha Yap - $360,000 to investigate how the junctions at which cells adhere to one another and form organs sense and respond to force.