Professor John Mattick
Professor John Mattick

28 January 2010

University of Queensland researchers have been awarded more than $8.6 million in National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) funding today, including $4.6 million to the IMB.

UQ attracted two of only nine NHMRC Australia Fellowships awarded nationally.

Each Fellowship is valued at $4 million over five years, with funding commencing in 2010.

This is Australia's most prestigious Fellowship award in the fields of health and medical research.

IMB also attracted an NHMRC Development Grant, with funding in this scheme used to commercialise health and medical research projects.

UQ Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Max Lu congratulated the award recipients and said UQ was delighted at its "absolutely outstanding success" in the Australia Fellowships scheme.

"Given that so few are awarded nationally, the fact that we have once again secured two is excellent," he said.

Professor John Mattick, AO, FAA, from the IMB was awarded a $4 million Australia Fellowship to further explore his hypothesis on so-called 'junk' DNA.

For many years, scientists have thought that most of the human genome is composed of junk, since only a tiny fraction specificed conventional genes.

These genes code for proteins, which are the key structural and functional components of cells and which form the other molecules of life, while the remaining DNA in the genome was thought to be evolutionary left-overs with no function.

Professor Mattick has pioneered the theory that this "junk" DNA actually specifies a hidden layer of regulatory information that is essential to human development, brain function and gene-environment interactions.

This information is expressed in cells through RNA, a molecule similar to DNA found in the nucleus of cells that can control the status of the DNA and be modified by environmental signals.

"My scientific vision is to transform our understanding of human genomic programming and human genetics by showing that the human genome in reality encodes an RNA machine and that RNA is the computational engine of the cell," Professor Mattick said.

"Through the Australia Fellowship I will lead a team of researchers to explore the scientific and applied dimensions of the thesis that the human genome is not largely comprised of evolutionary debris, but rather encodes an extraordinarily sophisticated information suite."

If Professor Mattick's hypothesis is correct, the project will transform our understanding of human biology and intelligence, and create an enlightened framework for future research into human health and disease.

UQ's other Australia Fellow for 2010 is Professor Martyn Goulding, who will join the Queensland Brain Institute from the Salk Institute in the United States.

IMB's Professor David Fairlie received a three-year $610,500 Development Grant to commercialise drugs for inflammatory diseases.

"We have discovered a class of molecules that can bind to a particular protein on the surface of humna cells and control the inappropriate inflammatory responses that lead to disease," Professor Fairlie said.

"The grant will allow us to test the molecules we have designed to see if they have the right pharmacological properties to provide therapeutic effects."

Media: Jan King (0413 601 248) or Bronwyn Adams (07 3346 2134)

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