Work decoding human genome wins PM's Prize for Science

18 October 2017

A University of Queensland scientist whose pioneering work has helped unravel the complexity of the human genome and genetic traits has won a 2017 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

解密人类复杂疾病基因 – 昆士兰大学教授荣膺总理科学奖

Professor Jian Yang, from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) and Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), was awarded the Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year tonight at Parliament House.

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said it was the second year in a row that a UQ scientist had won the award, with Professor Kerrie Wilson taking the honour in 2016 for her work on the value of ecosystems and the most effective ways to protect them.

“Professor Yang had made paradigm-shifting contributions to the study of human genetics through developing new methods for identifying the genetic factors underlying complex diseases,” Professor Høj said.

“Professor Yang’s work is opening the way for us to better understand the basis of disease, which allows the development of new drugs and treatments, and improved prediction of who is at risk from genomic disease.

“While some diseases such as haemophilia are caused by a change to only one or two genes, most conditions are far more complex.

“They involve large numbers of changes across the genome that individually have little effect but together with environmental factors can cause a devastating disease.

IMB Director Professor Brandon Wainwright said Professor Yang’s new statistical method had already allowed him to demonstrate that the variation in conditions including obesity, cognitive ability and schizophrenia were due to the contribution of a large number of genetic variants across the whole human genome.

“His work has launched a new era of genomic analysis through the techniques he has developed and shared with the international research community, with thousands of geneticists around the world using his software,” Professor Wainwright said.

Professor Yang received his degree in biological science and his PhD in statistical genetics from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, west of Shanghai in China, before moving to Australia in 2008 and joining UQ in 2012.

The Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year is awarded in honour of Professor Frank Fenner AC, an Australian researcher who played a key role in the worldwide eradication of smallpox and also directed the effort to reduce the country’s rabbit population using the myxoma virus.

Media: IMB Communications, communications@imb.uq.edu.au, +61 (0) 418 575 247, +61 (0) 7 3346 2134; QBI Communications, d.lu@uq.edu.au, +61 (0) 405 661 856, +61 (0) 7 3346 6419. 

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