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Researchers from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences are involved with five of the eight projects recently launched as part of Deakin University’s Research My World initiative, in conjunction with crowdfunding site Pozible.com.
The projects provide a great snapshot of the diversity of research taking place in the school. They range from uncovering new information about endangered species in Papua New Guinea, to investigating seaweed as a food source, to mapping Victoria’s ocean floor, to using maggots in the treatment of Bairnsdale Ulcer, to the impact of changing ocean salt concentration on marine invertebrates.
Under the Pozible funding scheme, members of the public have the opportunity to make tax-deductible donations to a range of unique research projects that appeal to their interests and concerns. The Deakin-Pozible project is believed to be the first time an Australian university has used crowdfunding to pursue research funding.
In launching the initiative, Deakin’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Lee Astheimer, said crowdfunding had been successfully used to foster innovation in a number of entrepreneurial fields and the question had been asked why weren’t universities trying it.
‘Well now we are,’ she said.
Professor Astheimer said that the Pozible experiment is consistent with Deakin’s reputation as an innovator in higher education.
Use the links below to visit the Pozible site to find details and a video about each of the projects involving LES researchers:
Professor Leigh Ackland (School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Acting Director, Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology) is an invited speaker at the 3rd International Conference on the Science of Nutrition in Medicine and Healthcare, being held in Sydney in early May.
Convened by the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine (ACNEM) Inc, the Preventative Health Flagship of CSIRO, and the Nutrition Society of Australia (NSA), the overarching theme of the 2013 conference is ‘modifying the price of progress’. International and local speakers will address the conference themes of Nutrigenomics (in a pre-conference workshop), early development and childhood, environmental impacts on human health and age and lifestyle-related neurological decline.
Professor Ackland is making two presentations. The first ‘Trace element deficiencies, in particular zinc and molecular genomic aspects of zinc deficiency’ is part of the Nutrigenomics workshop.
‘Zinc deficiency is a major risk factor for disease in the developing world,’ Professor Ackland explained.
‘Zinc deficiency results in a diminished immune response, reduced healing and neurological disorders. It is also a feature of some chronic diseases including diabetes and brain disorders.
'Zinc deficiency is commonly caused by dietary factors. While it is possible to detect severe zinc deficiency, an issue is that marginal zinc deficiency is difficult to detect due to the lack of a suitable test. We have analysed some inherited zinc deficiency disorders and this is providing insights into finding better ways of identifying zinc deficiency.’
Professor Ackland’s second presentation, ‘Health effects of environmental heavy metal contamination and remediation strategies’, is part of the environmental impact workshops stream.
‘Environmental pollution due to human activities is a major global problem,’ Professor Ackland said.
‘Emissions of heavy metals such as lead, copper, cadmium, arsenic, mercury and zinc have contributed to the burden of disease. Heavy metal pollution arises from industry, municipal sources and from agriculture.
‘Heavy metals exert their toxic effects through interference with biological processes and adversely affect many functions of the body. In northern China, the contamination of food crops and subsequent toxic effects on populations was caused by wastewater irrigation of crops with industrial waste. In a collaborative project with China, we have been developing phytoremediation strategies to decontaminate heavy metal-contaminated soil.’
The 3rd International Conference on the Science of Nutrition in Medicine and Healthcare, 3-5 May 2013, Sheraton on the Park, Sydney.
Dr Alexandre Schimel has joined the School of Life and Environmental Sciences as post-doctoral fellow at the Warrnambool Campus and will be in charge of the new Kongsberg EM2040c multibeam sonar recently fitted to Deakin’s new marine research vessel Yolla.
Coming from an engineering and acoustics background, Dr Schimel’s work will assist Deakin’s marine ecologists in working with sonar data to better understand marine habitats. The sonar equipment produced in Norway is the first of its kind in the world and will allow for large sections of the sea floor to be mapped at a level of detail never before possible.
Dr Schimel has a wide interest in sonar use for the marine environment. He has worked with the world’s best underwater acoustics specialists during a Master of Engineering at ENSTA Bretagne in his native France. His past experience with sonar systems includes seabed sediment characterisation with IFREMER in France, and use of multibeam sonar for fisheries at the renowned Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping of the University of New Hampshire (USA).
For the past six years he has been researching the potential of multibeam sonar systems for seafloor habitat mapping for his PhD at the University of Waikato in New Zealand whilst working as an oceanographer at Weather and Oceanographic services company MetOcean Solutions Ltd.
At Deakin, Dr Schimel’s research work with the new sonar will provide data for various seafloor and habitat mapping projects. His research will focus on exploiting the system's modern water-column imaging capabilities and wide frequency range.
‘I’m excited to see what new information we can get from it,' he says. ‘The Warrnambool Campus now has one of the most advanced seafloor mapping sonar system in the world, which provides enormous opportunity to push the frontiers of marine habitat mapping.’
Australian researchers, including biomedical scientist Dr Richard Williams, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, have taken the first step in using bioactive peptides as the building blocks to help ‘build a new brain’ to treat degenerative brain disease.
Dr Williams is working in a team with Dr David Nisbet from the Australian National University and Dr Clare Parish at the Florey Neuroscience Institute to develop a way to repair the damaged parts of the brain that cause Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s disease develops when the brain cells (or neurons) that produce the chemical dopamine die or are damaged. Dopamine neurons produce a lubricant that helps the brain transmit signals to the body that control muscles and movement. When these cells die or are damaged the result is the shaking and muscle stiffness that are among the common symptoms of the disease.
‘We are looking at a way of helping the brain to regenerate the dead or damaged cells that transport dopamine throughout the body,’ Dr Williams said.
‘Peptides help the body heal itself, providing many positive benefits for health, particularly in regenerative medicine; this is why the sports people were using them to recover more quickly in the current doping scandal.’
Peptides are both the building blocks and the messengers of the body; the team has used them to mimic the normal brain environment and provide the chemical signals needed to help the brain function.
‘Peptides stick together like Lego blocks, so in the first stage of the project we have been able to make a three dimensional material or tissue scaffold that provides the networks cells need to grow; but the peptides also carry instructions in the form of chemical signals which tell the cells to grow into new neurons,’ Dr Williams explained.
‘Importantly, this material has the same consistency as the brain, does not cause chronic inflammation and is non-toxic to the body.
‘Our aim is to use this scaffold material to support the patient’s own stem cells that could be turned into dopamine neurons and implanted back into the brain. We expect that when implanted the material and stem cells would be accepted by the brain as normal tissue and grow to replace the damaged or dead cells.’
The results of the first stage of this Australian Research Council funded project will be published in the international journal Soft Matter.
According to Dr Euan Ritchie, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, the dingo may have a real role to play in helping reduce the feline impact on Australia's wildlife.
Talking to renowned science commentator Robyn Williams on The Science Show, Dr Ritchie said: 'Well, it's a strange situation I guess to use one predator to fix a problem that of course is with another predator, but what we know from around the world is that top predators or apex predators as some people call them are quite useful in controlling other species.'
Professor Scott McWilliams, University of Rhode Island, will be part of the Deakin ‘Thinkers in Residence’ program, for six months from January to June 2013, based at the Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus.
Scott is an animal eco-physiologist with a particular interest in the energetics, nutrition, and digestive physiology of threatened wild vertebrates (see http://cels.uri.edu/nrs/NRS_ProfileView.aspx?id=2).
He will address two grand research challenges in integrative ecology: (1) how contemporary theory related to animal performance (e.g., the energetics of flight) must be revised in light of new empirical results on the physiology of exercise, and (2) how animals defend themselves against oxidative damage - specifically, how an understanding of the ability of birds to avoid oxidative stress during long migratory flights informs the debate about the role of the antioxidant system in maintaining homeostasis in exercising vertebrates including humans.
Maude Baldwin (Harvard University) and Alejandro Rico-Guevara (University of Connecticut) are spending two months with Professor Bill Buttemer of LES and the Centre for Integrative Ecology. Their research is examining two main topics:
Detecting sugar: functional and evolutionary diversification of sensory perception in birds. (Maude)
Feeding mechanisms of nectar consumption in nectar-feeding birds. (Alejandro)
They will complement their studies of nearctic and neotropical nectarivores with lab-based and field-based studies of parrots and honeyeaters in Victoria and New South Wales.
The Thursday March 14 episode of ABC TV’s Catalyst: On The Road features not one, but two stories highlighting the work of Deakin researchers from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.
Marine scientist Dr Daniel Ierodiaconou (Warrnambool Campus) gives an insight into what lies beneath Victoria’s coastal waters through the research project he is leading to map the ocean floor.
Back on dry land, it’s into the field at the Great Otway National Park for a look at the research wildlife biologist Dr Desley Whisson (Melbourne Burwood Campus) is doing into koala-habitat systems and developing ways to conserve the koalas and the habitat they depend on.
The Catalyst: On The Road episode airs Thursday 14 March at 8.00pm. For more information including episode repeat times visit the ABC website.