Cone snails
Cone snails

30 October 2015

Researchers at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience have received $7 million from the Australian Research Council (ARC) to pursue discoveries in a range of health and agriculture areas.

The grants will fund projects to develop biosensors that can talk to smartphones, more efficient algal biofactories, and pain treatments from venom.

More than 100 UQ projects received funding of almost $42 million in total.

IMB Director Professor Brandon Wainwright congratulated all recipients and thanked the ARC for its support of Queensland research.

“IMB’s success rate for these grants was three times higher than the national average, which clearly demonstrates the quality of our research and the strength of our reputation,” he said.

“We look forward to translating this investment into results for the community over the coming years.”

If you’d like to receive updates on IMB’s latest research outcomes, please subscribe to our e-newsletter.

Discovery project highlights

Converting solar energy into sustainable fuels and food
The photosynthetic machinery of green algae has evolved to capture solar energy and carbon dioxide, providing opportunities to produce food, fuel, clean water and high value products on non-arable land. Professor Ben Hankamer and his team will map the photosynthetic machinery of algae to enable modifications that can increase sunlight capture and provide environmental, social and economic benefits through increased productivity.

Sensor to smartphone
Professor Kirill Alexandrov and his team will use their grant to develop biosensors that collect biological information within the body and send the information to an electronic device such as a smartphone. The biosensors would be inexpensive and have the potential to detect almost any molecule. They could be used for medical diagnostics, biotechnological manufacturing, agriculture, biosecurity and robotic sensing.

Looking to venoms to treat pain
Venoms are a rich source of potential drug leads to treat pain and target insect pests. Mapping the evolution of venoms provides insight into the role and importance of particular proteins, and can direct the search for new drugs. Professor Glenn King, Dr Eivind Undheim and their team will use their grant to examine the evolution of centipede venom and look for new drug and insecticide leads.

Professor Richard Lewis, Professor Paul Alewood and their teams will investigate the ability of cone snails to switch between predatory and defensive venoms in response to environmental cues. Comparing the distinct venom types will speed up the search for new pain treatments from cone snail venoms. Professor Alewood will also produce and study toxins from cone snails to provide further leads for drug development.

Extending the effectiveness of peptide drugs
Peptides (mini proteins) can be used as highly specific drugs that are relatively cheap to produce and have few side effects. However, the usefulness of peptides is limited by their short lifespan in the body. Professor David Fairlie and his team will use their grant to engineer ‘superglue’ peptides that will stick more tightly and selectively to their targets and remain active for longer.

A molecular timer for inflammation and cell death
Life and health depend on the timely execution of essential cellular processes, including the immune response to infection and cell damage. Dr Kate Schroder and her team will investigate a molecular timer which controls inflammation and the lifespan of immune cells, to understand the timing of immune responses and immune cell suicide.

Taking a closer look inside our cells
Sodium channels are key components of the nervous system in all animals that control the transmission of nerve signals between the body and brain. Professor Glenn King and his team will look closer than ever before at the sodium channels of animals to understand how they work. This could lead to the design of eco-friendly insecticides and better drugs that target these channels.

The transport of proteins is essential for controlling the interactions of a cell with its environment, and for regulating a huge number of cell signalling events. Dr Brett Collins and his team will use their grant to study the structure of retromer, a multi-component protein machine that transports proteins within cells. Associate Professor Rohan Teasdale will study the cargo that retromer transports to understand its role in directing traffic. Their research may provide insight into human neurodegenerative diseases, which occur when cell transport is disrupted.

Understanding sex determination in embryos
Several genes influence embryo sex determination and gonad development, but Sox9 has emerged as a master regulator in this system. Professor Peter Koopman and his team will use powerful new technology to study the interactions of Sox9 and gain insight into sex determination, stem cell differentiation, and development of many other organ systems that depend on Sox9 function.

Targeting membrane proteins
Proteins embedded in cell membranes play a vital role in controlling the interaction of cells with the outside environment. They are also the targets of many drugs. Professor Jenny Martin and her team will examine the human zinc transporter protein, which has a role in immunity and wound healing, to increase understanding of these important membrane proteins. 

Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities grant

  • Funding to support a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility for Modern Molecular Analysis (Professor David Craik, Professor Norelle Daly, Associate Professor Craig Williams, Professor David Fairlie, Professor Paul Burn, Dr Mehdi Mobli, Professor Alexander Loukas, Associate Professor Andreas Lopata)

Discovery Early Career Researcher Award

  • Funding to support Dr Eivind Undheim to unravel the structural evolution of centipede toxins and uncover new peptides for agricultural and pharmaceutical applications.
  • Funding to support Dr Rajesh Ghai to gain insight into the complex pathways of cellular homeostasis.

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