The rising stars of science: setting out to create change

Novel discoveries are born from innovation. Teams of scientists young and old gather to apply their minds and skills to the world's most challenging problems. Rarely is the spotlight shone on the newest members of the team, the PhD students commencing their careers under the leadership and guidance of experienced supervisors. 

But they are at the coalface, enthusiastically and diligently asking new questiosn and carrying out the experiments that can lead to groundbreaking discovereis that go on to change the world. 

This page will profile some of our rising stars who are setting out to create change through discovery. To celebrate International Women's Day, we are beginning by profiling two of our female stars.

Bronwyn Smithies - plant biotechnologist

Bronwyn SmithiesBronwyn Smithies is a plant biotechnologist helping to turn plants into 'living factories' that produce pharmaceuticals. Bronwyn has a multidisciplinary background in plant science, biotechnology, medical research, and chemistry, which makes her ideally suited to the task.

"Making drugs in plants is more efficient than other production systems," she said. "If successful, pharmaceuticals would be available on a larger scale and at lower cost, making them more accessible to both developed and developing countries."

Peptides are found naturally in plants and have great potential, when chemically modified, as drugs. Bronwyn is focusing her skill on a particular group of peptide drugs called cyclotides. 

"The cyclotides I work with are really cool because they can get in cells, but are not toxic to the cell. Scientists are therefore designing drugs based on these cyclotides to penetrate cells and destroy the cause of disease. My job is to take these drugs can get plants to make them.

"I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing a plant I have engineered making something that it hasn't done before, and knowing that I've made that happen."

Emma Livingstone - protein biochemist

Emma LivingstoneEmma Livingstone is a protein biochemist. She is examining the structure and function of different proteins in the human body. She focuses on the proteins that help brain cells to communicate.

"Brain cells communicate by packaging up bags of chemicals, such as dopamine and serotonin, called vesicles and sending that vesicle to the cell membrane. I am interested in the proteins that help open the vesicle when it arrives at the membrane."

A malfunction in the process is a contributing factor in diseases like epilepsy and dementia and could be involved in other neurological diseases.

"I am really interested in the general question of how proteins work, evolve and function. They are the best machines that we have - better than anything humans have ever created. But I am also driven by the desire to understand what causes disease at the molecular level so we can develop new medicines to combat diseases such as Alzheimer's."