Geneticist to delve into how our genes and environment shape us

3 August 2018

Pictured above: Professor Jian Yang (left) and Professor Peter Visscher (right), along with Professor Naomi Wray (middle) run the Program in Complex Trait Genomics.

Geneticist Professor Peter Visscher has been awarded the largest of the Australian Research Council’s most prestigious fellowship to understand the relationship between our genome, the environment and complex human traits.

Professor Visscher, from UQ's Institute for Molecular Bioscience (IMB) and Queensland Brain Institute (QBI), received a $3.46 million Laureate Fellowship, one of six received by University of Queensland (UQ) researchers - the most a single university has ever been awarded in the history of the scheme.

IMB Acting Director Professor Alpha Yap said the fellowship was testament to Professor Visscher’s accomplishments and future vision. 

“Professor Visscher has, this year alone, been elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of London, joining the ranks of previous Fellows such as Sir Isaac Newton and Professor Stephen Hawking, and also as a Foreign Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences,” he said.

“Now, he will use this fellowship to investigate the causes and consequences of the differences between traits from person to person, a project made possible by the availability of big data from the genomics revolution.

“Professor Visscher will develop new methods and user-friendly software tools to study datasets containing millions of individuals to generate new knowledge across the entire human lifespan.”

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Peter Høj said the funding showed the strength of UQ’s research excellence.

“The Laureate Fellowships are among the most prestigious and contested awards in the research community,” he said.

“To have six fellowships awarded in a single round proves that UQ’s strategic research is of exceptional value to both industry and society, and demonstrates why UQ is the university of choice for so many outstanding researchers.”

Professor Jian Yang, also from IMB and QBI, received an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship. He will use his fellowship to develop a better understanding of complex traits in the global population and the history of human evolution.

Professor Yang, who last year won a Prime Minister’s Prize for Science, will develop statistical methods to integrate data from genetic studies into human features such as height and cognition, and detect how signatures of natural selection have shaped genetic variation in these complex processes.