Life and Environmental Sciences news

04/2014 New life for the Colorado

04/2014 Visual tricks may aid male great bowerbird's mating success

04/2014 New research makes migrant species a conservation priority

04/2014 Beyond the impasse

03/2014 Rain triggers breeding event of an enigmatic species

03/2014 Honour for Deakin chemical scientist

03/2014 Zoologist Lord Krebs to visit LES students and researchers

02/2014 Rosella research makes for colourful cover story

02/2014 Different cultures, same outcome

01/2014 Give predators a chance

12/2013 Sea lion research wins Deakin researcher Shackleton Centenary Scholarship

12/2013 Poultry CRC funding helps research to get cracking

12/2013 Secrets of Lady Bay fishers revealed in Deakin study

10/2013 Animal personalities more like humans than first thought

10/2013 PNG research project goes from Pozible to reality

10/2013 Prize reaction to allergy research

10/2013 Plankton species heading for extinction

10/2013 Migrants and avian flu

09/2013 Funding helps researchers make the most of marine extract

09/2013 The challenge of managing our coasts

09/2013 Fellowship helps maggot research fly

08/2013 Copper and graphene a positive combination

08/2013 Forensic students confronted with gruesome reality of working crime scenes

08/2013 Presidential role for LES researcher

08/2013 New book examines links and lessons in large-scale conservation initiatives

08/2013 Discovering treasures under the sea

07/2013 Visit paves way for continued collaboration

LES news archive


 

Rain triggers breeding event of an enigmatic species

 A record rainfall event in Western Australia’s Goldfields region in early 2014 gave Deakin University PhD student Reece Pedler a rare opportunity to witness a breeding event of the small wading bird that is the focus of his research - the Banded Stilt.

Thousands of the birds headed to Lake Ballard in WA to breed when this lake and dozens of others filled after receiving an entire year’s rainfall in just a few days.

Mr Pedler, from the Centre for Integrative Ecology in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, travelled to the area following the exceptional rainfall to search for breeding events.

‘Banded Stilts spend a lot of time in saline wetlands near the coast; however, they save up their breeding opportunities for times when exceptional rainfall events fill up inland salt lakes,’ Mr Pedler explains.

‘Stilts are known for their uncanny ability to detect these events from hundreds of kilometres away, disappearing from their coastal haunts to breed in colonies on islands in these lakes, with breeding pairs sometimes numbering tens of thousands.

‘Only a handful of breeding events have been recorded for this species given that they nest in some of the most remote parts of Australia’s arid inland. After rainfall, these areas are even more difficult to access and we think the stilts’ rapidly completed breeding colonies often go undetected.’

After learning of this rainfall event, Mr Pedler contacted the large network of bird watchers and shorebird conservation volunteers involved with his project.

‘All reported back that the thousands of Banded Stilts which had been at their local lakes had suddenly disappeared,’ Mr Pedler says.

‘Knowing that the stilts had all moved and that there was water at some of the Goldfields salt lakes, we put two and two together and also headed inland. With some fantastic collaboration and support from local Department of Parks and Wildlife staff and air charter operator Goldfields Air Services, we hit the jackpot, finding a breeding colony of about 5,000 pairs on a tiny island in Lake Ballard during a flyover.

‘Despite freshly filled swamps and boggy ground, we managed to get on the ground to collect data from the colony and also to attach satellite transmitters to 12 of the adult stilts. These have since dispersed to other salt lakes all over inland Western Australia and we are getting some fantastic insights into the movement behaviour of this enigmatic species.’

The title of Mr Pedler’s thesis is ‘Movements and ecology of the Banded Stilt (Cladorhynchus leucocephalus)’ and his supervisors are Professor ATD Bennett, Dr RFH Ribot, Dr M Weston, Professor B Buttemer and Associate Professor DC Paton.

Read news articles about the breeding event on oneperth.com.au and Herald Sun websites.

Photo credit: Lynn Pedler

 

Honour for Deakin chemical scientist

 Deakin University chemical scientist Associate Professor Paul S. Francis has been admitted as a Fellow to the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC). This follows his election to Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (FRACI) in late 2013, in recognition of his authoritative international standing in the field of chemistry.

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) is described as the world's leading chemistry community, with over 48,000 members.

‘I feel really honoured to be recognised in this way,’ Associate Professor Francis says.

‘I have been a member of the RSC for over a decade and I believe that they play an important role, not only in the field of chemistry, but also in the communication of scientific research to the wider community.’

Associate Professor Francis’ path to becoming a chemical scientist began in 1995 as an undergraduate in Deakin’s Bachelor of Science course, followed by a PhD, which he completed in 2003. He continued his research at Deakin, first as postdoctoral research fellow, and then as a Lecturer in Chemistry in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences in 2010.

He currently holds a prestigious Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, administered by Deakin, with La Trobe University and the University of Manchester involved as host institutions. His current program of research is focused on the development of highly sensitive luminescence-based detection systems for applications in areas such as clinical diagnostics and illicit drug screening.

Associate Professor Francis has over 100 research publications and has been recognised with honours such as a Victorian Young Tall Poppy Science Award (from the Australian Institute of Policy and Science), and the RACI Robert Cattrall Medal for early career excellence in analytical chemistry.

 

Zoologist Lord Krebs to visit LES students and researchers

 World renowned zoologist and ecologist Professor Lord Krebs Kt FRS FMedSci will talk to Deakin University undergraduates, PhD students and young researchers, including via a Question and Answer session.

Lord Krebs began his research career in zoology. His early research was on the function of bird song, and decision rules that animals use for finding food. During this time, he largely created the field of behavioural ecology, for which he has written four editions of the key textbooks in the area. He has also conducted pathbreaking work in other areas of ecology and neuroscience, and has authored over 300 papers.

Currently, he chairs the UK’s House of Lords Select Committee for Science and Technology. He also sits on the UK Climate Change Committee, chairs its Adaptation Sub-Committee, and is also Principal of Jesus College, Oxford. Before this period, he was Chief Executive of the UK Natural Environment Research Council, and inaugural head of the UK’s Food Standard Agency. He has also been President of the Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour, President of the British Science Association, is a foreign Fellow of the US National Academy of Science, and a Fellow of the Royal Society in London.

Three main events are planned involving Deakin University:

At the Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus on the morning of Tuesday 18 March, from 11.00 to 11.45, Lord Krebs will speak to Deakin Zoology and Animal Science undergraduates - and other interested undergraduates, postgraduates and postdocs - on ‘My Zoological Life’. This will be a wonderful opportunity for students to hear Lord Krebs talk about his life experiences as a zoologist and ecologist and to ask him questions. The location for this talk is room na1.417 in the Geelong Technology Precinct (GTP) building.

In the afternoon from 2.00 to 2.50, Lord Krebs will have a Question and Answer session with young researchers (i.e. PhD students, postdocs, honours students). This session will be in room ka4.207 (the Green Room), also on the Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus.

On Wednesday 19 March, he will give a public lecture, ‘International and national perspectives on adapting to climate change: a conversation between ABC’s Robyn Williams and Professor Lord Krebs’. This will take place at Deakin Edge, Federation Square, Melbourne. The lecture is sponsored by Deakin University and the Victorian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation Research. More information can be found on the LES event webpage.

 

Rosella research makes for colourful cover story

 A paper co-authored by Deakin University researchers and published in the The Journal of Experimental Biology (JEB) about how parrots see their colours was also selected as that issue’s cover story and featured in the journal’s ‘Inside JEB’ section.

Dr Ben Knott, Dr Mathew Berg, Associate Professor Kate Buchanan and Professor Andy T. D. Bennett from the Centre of Integrative Ecology in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences collaborated with colleagues from Western Australia and the United Kingdom on the paper, which was published in JEB’s 1 December 2013 issue.

‘We were studying the colour vision of the Adelaide rosella to lead in to a bigger study assessing whether the considerable colour differences in plumage observed in the crimson rosella - a single species group in south-eastern Australia that comprises crimson, yellow and Adelaide rosellas - corresponded to differences in how the birds perceived colour,’ Dr Knott explains.

‘First, using custom-built microspectrophotometers in London and at the Waurn Ponds campus, we measured the colour sensitivity of individual cells in the rosella retina. Following this, we sequenced the light-sensitive proteins in the eye, and found sequences that could potentially affect the function of these proteins, and that were unique not only to birds, but unique to all vertebrates. These sequences are now the basis for an ongoing comparative study.’

On the basis of the paper, a photograph of an Adelaide morph of the crimson rosella by Deakin Research Fellow Dr Raoul Ribot was chosen to appear on the front cover of the issue.

Follow this link to the issue on the JEB website.

Knott, B., Davies, W. I. L., Carvalho, L. S., Berg, M. L., Buchanan, K. L., Bowmaker, J. K., Bennett, A. T. D. and Hunt, D. M. (2013). How parrots see their colours: novelty in the visual pigments of Platycercus elegans. Journal of Experimental Biology 216, 4454-4461.

 

Different cultures, same outcome

 Professor John Endler, Deakin's School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Centre for Integrative Ecology, is co-author of a paper which could have implications for the way archaeologists analyse ancient ceramics.

‘How Can Ten Fingers Shape a Pot? Evidence for Equivalent Function in Culturally Distinct Motor Skills’ was published in the online journal PLOS ONE in November 2013. Co-authors with Professor Endler were Enora Gandon, Reinoud J. Bootsma and Leore Grosman.

A media release about the paper was also featured on the ScienceDaily research website.

‘We examined the use of hand positions by potters in French and Indian cultural settings, making pots of a common simple shape they do not normally make, in order to investigate whether or not culture influences motor patterns and the outcome of motor patterns - the final shape of the pots,’ Professor Endler explains.

‘We used a mathematical description of shape called the elliptical Fourier transform to describe the shapes of each pot made by each potter in each culture. We found that although the potters did use different, largely culture-specific, hand positions, the end result was the same shape.

‘So different cultures are using different methods to arrive at the same solution. This means that a lack of difference in archaeological pottery samples does not necessarily mean the samples came from the same culture.’

 Professor Endler says the study used a method he originally devised to describe the shapes of biological samples.

‘My part was to do the shape analysis and relate it to the rest of the study. I devised the method many years ago to describe the shapes of leaves and other biological samples, so it is pleasing to see it applied to human artifacts too. It fits into my research in that I am generally interested in the interaction between form and function.

‘Most of my work has dealt with visual signals, although my recent work with bowerbirds also deals with (bowerbird) artifacts,’ Professor Endler says.

Gandon E, Bootsma RJ, Endler JA, Grosman L (2013) How Can Ten Fingers Shape a Pot? Evidence for Equivalent Function in Culturally Distinct Motor Skills. PLoS ONE 8(11): e81614. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0081614.

 

Sea lion research wins Deakin researcher Shackleton Centenary Scholarship

 Deakin University marine scientist Dr Alastair Baylis has been awarded the Shackleton Centenary Scholarship - which marks the 100th Anniversary of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Trans- Antarctic Endurance expedition - for his research on southern sea lions (Otaria flavescens) at the Falkland Islands.

Dr Baylis is an Associate Research Fellow in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Centre for Integrative Ecology and is based at the Warrnambool Campus.

Together with co-investigators, Dr Iain Staniland (British Antarctic Survey), Dr Joseph Hoffman (Bielefeld University, Germany), and Associate Professor John Arnould (Deakin University), Dr Baylis will study the ecology of southern sea lions at the Falkland Islands. The research involves a census of the breeding population, assessing genetic diversity and deploying biologging tags.

Dr Baylis says the scholarship is an honour.

‘I am honoured to have received the Shackleton Centenary Scholarship. The scholarship will enable multi-disciplinary research on what is one of the world’s least studied pinniped* species,’ Dr Baylis explains.

‘Ultimately the research will assist with marine spatial planning in the Falkland Islands. As an early career researcher, it is also a wonderful opportunity to develop and strengthen international collaborations.’

The project is also supported by funding from the Falkland Islands Government, Sea World and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund and the Rufford Small Grants Fund.

Dr Baylis completed his PhD in 2008 at the University of Adelaide on New Zealand fur seals in South Australia. Before coming to Deakin in 2012, his posts included the Pribilof Islands, Alaska where he worked with the UBC Marine Mammal Research Unit on northern fur seals and the Falkland Islands, where his research focused on seabird and pinniped foraging ecology and population variability.

The Shackleton Scholarship Fund was established in 1995 to commemorate the lives of the explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his son the statesman Edward, Lord Shackleton. This year, an exceptional Centenary Scholarship of up to £10,000 was offered to commemorate the departure of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ship Endurance for the Antarctic in 1914, attracting ‘applications from top class natural and social scientists from several countries’.

* Seals, sea lions and walruses

 

Poultry CRC funding helps research to get cracking

 Highlighting the benefits that can be found through collaboration, the research projects of three PhD students from Deakin University’s NeuroAllergy Research Laboratory (NARL) are receiving support from the Poultry Cooperative Research Centre, to date attracting a total of $235,000 in funds.

The Deakin projects are being supported under the Poultry CRC’s Research Program. Pathum Dhanapala is working towards the development of allergen-free (hypoallergenic) eggs; Chamika De Silva is working on the cloning and characterisation of chicken egg yolk allergens, and Lauren Mahoney aims to develop a vaccine against Salmonella sp. for the poultry industry.

Associate Professor Cenk Suphioglu, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, is the head of NARL and the principal supervisor on each of the projects together with CSIRO colleagues Dr Sharon Bishop-Hurley (Lauren) and Dr Tim Doran (Pathum and Chamika). He says collaborations such as these can provide important development opportunities for HDR students.

‘Collaborations can provide HDR students with an opportunity to interact with industry partners and to become more knowledgeable. They can help students to prepare to find success, and to find employment after their studies,’ Associate Professor Suphioglu says.

‘In terms of training and development, the Poultry CRC has an annual forum... [it’s] a great forum for like-minded PhD students to mix together and network. Also an opportunity for them to network with industry.’

As well as the forum, the Poultry CRC also offers the students they are supporting other opportunities as Liz Roan, Poultry CRC Education Manager, explains.

‘The Poultry CRC also runs an annual workshop called PoultryGrad specifically for our postgraduates and postdocs. I’m actually in the middle of organising the next one to be held next March, so am getting speakers and checking out possible venues for field trips. Should be lots of fun,’ Ms Roan says.

‘We also provide travel grants to enable our students to attend conferences where they are presenting, both domestically and internationally, which helps give them experience in presenting and broadens their professional network.’

Photo: (l-r) Pathum, Lauren, Associate Professor Cenk Suphioglu and Chamika

 

Secrets of Lady Bay fishers revealed in Deakin study

 Warrnambool’s Lady Bay attracts mostly local recreational fishers who have a good efficiency rate in catching snapper, a Deakin University study has found.

The study by School of Life and Environmental Sciences honours student Lauren Dickson into the recreational fishing catch and effort in Lady Bay found most anglers are males aged 40-54 years and they travelled an average 44km to fish. They are also successful with 86 per cent catching fish in trips lasting an average 5.5 hours. 'This clearly illustrates the catching efficiencies and high specialisation of Lady Bay’s anglers,' Ms Dickson said.

A total of 30 species of fish were caught across 1434 individual catches during the survey period. Snapper was the primary catch with 43 per cent of the total.

Ms Dickson, who completed her undergraduate degree in environmental science majoring in marine biology at Warrnambool, said recreational fisheries are becomingly increasingly important worldwide; however the lack of information regarding their impact is preventing adequate management.

Her study aimed to test different sampling methods to inform recreational fisheries managers on the best way to estimate catch and effort. However, Ms Dickson said there was no feasible way to capture overall fishing catch and effort because there were too many confounding variables.

The study found the fishery is highly localised and specialised and largely attracts snapper catches.

Ms Dickson said 91 per cent of the anglers were male, much higher than general fishing population statistics for Victoria which show about 67 per cent are males.

The study found that 36 per cent of anglers were members of fishing clubs, with 21 per cent belonging to the local angling club.

'Better understanding of recreational snapper fishing in the south west of Victoria will be important to fisheries managers managing this fishery resource. It is essential that recreational catch is factored into overall management strategies,' Ms Dickson said.

'Given the high level of fishing effort, specialisation and high experience level of anglers, the total annual catch of many species, particularly snapper, may be substantial for Lady Bay and needs to be adequately represented in stock assessment and managerial decisions in the future.'

One hundred and forty four groups of people were interviewed for the study earlier this year. It was the first catch and effort study undertaken in Lady Bay.

Ms Dickson’s study was supervised by Associate Professor Laurie Laurenson and Dr Anne Wallis.

 

 

PNG research project goes from Pozible to reality

It's time for endangered species in Papua New Guinea to get ready for their close-up, as Deakin University's Dr Euan Ritchie heads there in early November to start work in the field on the first comprehensive camera trapping study of animals in the remote Torricelli Mountain range.

Dr Ritchie, an ecologist in Deakin's School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Centre for Integrative Ecology, is working with Jim Thomas and the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA) on the 'Discovering Papua New Guinea's Mountain Mammals' project, which aims to provide 'crucial knowledge' about endangered species in this region of PNG.

Dr Ritchie and colleagues will spend two weeks in the field and will be using 36 cameras at five transects - tracks along which cameras are placed at regular intervals - ranging in elevation from 500 to 1500 metres. There are several animals Dr Ritchie hopes will be caught by the cameras' lenses.

'We are hoping to record Tenkile, Weimang and Yongi tree kangaroos (three species of tree kangaroo which have never been recorded together before), and a range of other species, including a mystery echidna, the 2.5 metre-long Salvadori's monitor, and a probably entirely new species of Dorcopsis wallaby, referred to by Tim Flannery, but never caught,' Dr Ritchie says.

The project featured earlier this year in Deakin's Research My World initiative. In conjunction with crowdfunding site Pozible.com, members of the public had the opportunity to make donations to a range of unique research projects that appealed to their interests and concerns. The project successfully reached its Pozible funding target of $20,000: http://www.pozible.com/project/22847

Dr Ritchie says during the trip, regular updates will be featured on The Conversation website: http://theconversation.com/into-the-jungles-of-papua-new-guinea-a-personal-journey-19278

For more information about the project contact Dr Euan Ritchie

 

Prize reaction to allergy research

It’s now two out of two for Deakin University PhD candidate Nayyar Ahmed after winning the Immunopathology Poster Award for the second consecutive year at the annual conference of the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA).

Supported by Abacus ALS, the award carries with it a prize of $1000 and a certificate. The title of Nayyar’s poster and oral presentation was ‘Identification and characterization of a novel cytokine IL-13 antagonist for allergy treatment’. It outlined the identification and characterisation, by Nayyar and Deakin colleagues Pathum Dhanapala and Associate Professor Cenk Suphioglu, of a synthetic peptide, which may have potential for use in treatments to reduce allergic reactions.

Nayyar came to Deakin in 2007, doing a Bachelor of Biomedical Science and then his honours year at the Melbourne Burwood Campus. Now based at the NeuroAllergy Research Laboratory in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences at Deakin’s Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus, Nayyar started his PhD in March 2011.

He says presenting at the conference was a great opportunity.

‘I think it helps us [PhD students] to collaborate and... opens doors to new research and funding opportunities,’ Nayyar says. The opportunity to meet professors from Harvard, the University of Boston and the University of California was a particular highlight.

ASCIA is described as the peak professional body of clinical immunology and allergy in Australia and New Zealand. With two ASCIA conferences under his belt, Nayyar also plans to attend the 2014 conference in Melbourne. He says his choice to attend consecutive ASCIA conferences during his PhD has been strategic, to help him start building a network in his field - an approach he recommends to other HDR students.

The benefits to HDR students of participating in conferences is something Associate Professor Suphioglu, also Nayyar’s PhD supervisor, agrees with.

‘It’s an amazing forum to develop communication skills, present your findings - and what better recognition for your work than an award such as this.’

Nayyar and Associate Professor Suphioglu also noted their appreciation for the support Deakin offers HDR students to help them attend conferences.

A link to the poster abstracts from ASCIA 2013 can be found on the conference website: http://www.allergy.org.au/conferences/ascia-annual-conference/published-abstracts-ascia

 

Funding helps researchers make the most of marine extracts

 A project involving Deakin University’s Centre for Chemistry and Biotechnology (CCB) has been awarded NZ$10.8 million in funding in the New Zealand Government’s.

‘Export Marine Products’ is a new six-year project aimed at capitalising on the high-value marine extracts market.

Professor Colin Barrow, from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences and CCB Director, is heading Deakin’s involvement in the project, working with scientists from New Zealand’s Plant & Food Research organisation as well as industry partners. The project will be based in Nelson in New Zealand.

‘This project is pretty exciting,’ Professor Barrow says. ‘The funding is for NZ$10.8 million over six years so not only is this a large amount of money, but it has a long-term focus, working for a long period of time with industry partners who are committed to the project.’

The program is described as taking a ‘whole fish, whole value chain approach’, examining how to extract maximum value from marine products at multiple points in the value chain, converting traditionally low value by-product streams into high value marine molecules, as well as developing new unique marine extracts with proven applications, such as nutraceuticals, functional food ingredients and biomaterials.

Dr Sue Marshall, Plant & Food Research Science Group leader, explains further.

‘Aside from food uses, marine organisms contain many useful compounds including bioactives for body, skin and hair health and large polymers for biomaterials. These are often found in low value by-product streams too, so the potential to add value to the industry is huge,’ Dr Marshall says.

Although the project has a New Zealand focus, Professor Barrow says that researchers will also be working on Australian materials and project outcomes will also have applications for Australia.

‘A lot of it is around ‘green’ chemistry: taking waste products and trying to utilise all of the materials,’ Professor Barrow explains.

‘The diversity of marine life is another aspect. The marine environment has more than half the biodiversity on earth, so we will be looking at marine organisms and enzymes and what we can do with those that might be useful.’

Professor Barrow says the project is part of an ongoing collaboration he has had with Plant & Food Research for a number of years.

‘This project particularly aligns with my research interests in peptide and protein fibres, marine lipases for omega-3 processing and marine derived functional food ingredients,’ Professor Barrow says.

‘The project is an extension of a collaboration that formally started with a jointly funded PhD student, Tim Nalder, who is nearing completion of his Deakin PhD, after spending the first year of his research at Plant & Food New Zealand in Nelson and the remaining two years at Deakin’s Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus.’

Read more about the project in the Plant & Food Research media release: http://www.plantandfood.co.nz/page/news/media-release/story/marine-extracts-earns-nod-from-government/

 

The challenge of managing our coasts

 Associate Professor Geoff Wescott from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences was one of the keynote speakers at the 2013 WA State Coastal Conference: Balancing Communities and Coasts held in Esperance, Western Australia recently.

Organisers described the conference as ‘an excellent forum’ for people with an interest in coastal, estuarine and marine environments and management to meet and to share knowledge in a variety of areas including ‘planning, management, science, policy, governance, advocacy, on ground and community action’.

In his presentation, Associate Professor Wescott discussed Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM), strongly emphasising the importance of community level input and work in implementing integrated coastal zone management.
He argued that there was a strong case for re-inventing, in a modern IT based form, the former Marine and Coastal Community Network but that should come from the grass roots up, not be imposed top down and praised the local rural network as a prime example of what could be achieved from such an approach.

Associate Professor Wescott also pointed out that with the impacts of climate change on the coast becoming more prevalent the federal government will be forced to address the costs and nature of coastal adaptation infrastructure in their incoming first term.

Associate Professor Wescott is also the plenary speaker at the inaugural 2013 South Australian State Coastal Conference, 30 September - 1 October, on the topic ‘Coastal Challenges: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’.

 

Fellowship helps maggot research fly

 Dr Michelle Harvey, a forensic entomologist in Deakin University’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, will be travelling to the USA to further research the relationship between blowflies, maggots and bacteria after recently being named as a recipient of a 2013 Churchill Fellowship.

These prestigious Fellowships are awarded annually in Australia by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust. The Fellowships each have an average value of $20,000 and are described as giving recipients ‘the opportunity to travel overseas to further their passion and return to Australia to implement their findings and share them with others’.

For Dr Harvey, this means the opportunity to travel to two research facilities in the USA - including the University of Tennessee’s Anthropology Research Facility where she has done research previously - to seek to better understand bacteria associated with the blowfly, Lucilia sericata.

‘These are the same blowflies that are found on decomposing corpses, as we also find in flystrike on sheep and we also use in maggot debridement therapy to clean up wounds,’ Dr Harvey explains.

‘What we’re interested in is how maggots actually deal with bacteria, because they obviously live in these really disgusting environments and we want to know how they manage to do that.

‘We know that [maggots] have chemical potential - they produce these excretions and secretions that kill off bacteria and help to clean up the wounds.

‘What we really don’t understand is what does a fly bring with it when it comes into a wound, because we know they’re carrying certain types of bacteria and it seems these bacteria might actually be quite important in creating certain compounds and things that can work against other bacteria. As an example, could they potentially be critical in the fight against emerging antibiotic resistant superbugs.’

The intention underpinning the Churchill Fellowships of recipients using the knowledge they gain to benefit the wider Australian community is something Dr Harvey strongly believes in.

‘That’s really important to me, because everything that I do is aimed towards having some kind of social impact, that’s why I went into forensics because I felt like I could make a difference.

‘What you really want to see as a researcher is that the work you are doing has as much impact as possible, measurable impact... I don’t want to be collecting data that could help someone, but it doesn’t get there because they’re not informed about what is going on.’

Investigating the potential benefits of maggots is an area Dr Harvey is already working in. With colleague Dr Melanie Thomson, from Deakin’s School of Medicine, she is working on a project to trial maggot debridement therapy (MDT) to improve patient outcomes in Bairnsdale Ulcer cases. The project was recently successfully funded through Deakin’s ‘Research My World’ initiative with crowd funding site Pozible.com.

 

Copper and graphene a positive combination

Deakin University PhD candidate Motilal Mathesh hopes the publication in an important international journal of a paper that developed out of his Master of Biotechnology (Honours) at Deakin is an encouragement to other master degree students.

‘You can publish, you can make it a step towards your PhD,’ Motilal says. Motilal came to Deakin after completing his undergraduate studies at SASTRA University in India.

The importance of publishing is a point Dr Wenrong Yang - Motilal’s PhD supervisor and also a co-author of the paper - likes to emphasise to research students.

‘If our research does not produce publications, including papers and patents, it might equally mean our research does not exist,’ Dr Yang explains. ‘Also, through publications, research students can generate measurable output which they can use for their CVs and in their future careers.’

Titled ‘Facile synthesis of graphene oxide hybrids bridged by copper ions for increased conductivity’, the paper was published earlier this year by the Journal of Materials Chemistry C, which covers materials for optical and electronic devices. Co-authors with Motilal on the paper were, from Deakin, Professor Colin Barrow and Dr Yang, Centre for Chemistry and Biotechnology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences, and Nguyen Nam, Institute for Frontier Materials, together with colleagues from CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering, The University of Sydney, and Qingdao University, China.

In their paper, Motilal and his colleagues demonstrated that binding positively-charged copper to negatively-charged graphene oxide reduces the resistance of the resulting hybrid material. They also found that the resistance of the hybrid films was then dramatically decreased through flash reduction.

According to the researchers, the results achieved demonstrate that the combination of graphene with metal ions can strongly reduce the overall resistance of the films, which improves their potential application for stretchable displays, flexible electronics, photovoltaics, and organic light-emitting diodes. The results of this work are the first stage of an Australian Research Council funded Discovery Project.

The paper can be found on the Journal of Materials Chemistry C website: http://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2013/tc/c3tc30180j

Note: Graphene is a form of carbon which has attracted much interest since its discovery due to its status as the thinnest, strongest, truly two-dimensional material, and possibly most electronically conductive material known to humankind, features that were acknowledged in the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Prize in Physics.

 

Forensic students confronted with gruesome reality of working crime scenes

In a corner of Deakin University's Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus an inconspicuous building is set to be the site of some grisly scenes. It has been converted into a purpose-built facility to provide Deakin's forensic science students with a real-life experience of working a crime scene.

Officially opened on 7 August, The Roger Lewis and Michael Liddy Forensic Crime Scene Training Centre includes a kitchen, lounge room and bedroom (with a bathroom to be fitted shortly), all ready to be staged with the gruesome elements forensic investigators are confronted with, from body fluids and blood to finger prints and fibres and weapons.

'With this new facility we will add a dose of reality to the skills our students have developed through the forensic science program,' said Dr Xavier Conlan, a senior lecturer in forensic science at Deakin.

'We have the flexibility to stage a wide range of crime scenes such as a clandestine drug lab or fatal stabbing. Working the scenarios will provide a holistic experience of what is involved in working a crime scene from the correct way to identify, collect and store evidence, to in the lab analysis and presenting the evidence in court.'

Guests at the opening were welcomed by a homicide scene that involved a clandestine drug laboratory. The scene had been processed by the 'investigators' and gave the visitors a real feel for the atmosphere in a gruesome forensic crime scene.

'Our program is well respected within the forensic science community and our undergraduate students have opportunities to mix with real world forensic practitioners,' said Dr Michelle Harvey, course director of Deakin's Bachelor of Forensic Science.

'We train the ultimate problem solvers. They leave us with outstanding analytical skills making them extremely sought after by employers.'

Read the full media release and watch a video interview by The Age on the Deakin Newsroom website: deakin.edu.au/news/2013/070813crimescenetraining.php

Find out more about studying Forensic Science at Deakin.

 

Presidential role for LES researcher

Dr Matthew Symonds, an evolutionary biologist and lecturer in Deakin's School of Life and Environmental Sciences, has been appointed President of the Australasian Evolution Society.

The Australasian Evolution Society is a professional society for researchers and students in the field of evolutionary biology in Australia, New Zealand, and the South Pacific. It has more than 100 members, including geneticists, ecologists, botanists and zoologists.

‘It's very exciting to be serving as president of the society for 2013 and 2014,' Dr Symonds says.

‘The Australasian region has particular strength and talent in the field of evolution, and members of our society are at the forefront of evolutionary research worldwide. So, it's an honour to be able to act in a capacity that seeks to unite this community.

‘I see my role as president as being a facilitator in trying to strengthen ties and communication not only among Australasian evolutionary researchers, but also to the wider public with an interest in science.

‘One simple way of doing this is to champion and publicise the fascinating and diverse kinds of evolutionary research going on in the region, and make people more aware of the talented and dynamic individuals who are carrying out this research.'

Another aspect of Dr Symonds' role as president is organising the biannual conference for the society, which this year is in Geelong at the end of September.

‘We've got a really exciting line-up of talks shaping up, covering everything from the evolution of leadership in humans to the way cuckoos are able to dupe their hosts.'

Dr Symonds describes his research as covering a broad range of questions and systems, ‘but primarily seeks to understand why there is diversity among even quite closely related species'.

‘I have a broad range of evolutionary questions and ideas that I am interested in. Being associated with the Australasian Evolution Society therefore really helps to stimulate the creation of those ideas because you are hearing all about this amazing research being conducted by your colleagues in the same field. I also teach evolution to undergraduates at Deakin, so it's a great opportunity to encounter new studies that I can use to illustrate evolutionary processes in my classes.'

Deakin is hosting the 8th biannual meeting of the Australasian Evolution Society at the Geelong Conference Centre from 30 September to 2 October 2013. For more information visit the Society's website: http://australasianevolutionsociety.com/ .

 

New book examines links and lessons in large-scale conservation initiatives

Associate Professor Geoff Wescott, from Deakin's School of Life and Environmental Sciences, is one of the editors of a new book entitled Linking Australia's Landscapes: Lessons and opportunities from large-scale conservation networks. Associate Professor Wescott's co-editors are James Fitzsimons, Adjunct Associate Professor in the school and Director of Conservation for The Nature Conservancy, and Ian Pulsford, formerly with the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation.

The book, published by CSIRO Publishing, has 28 chapters from a wide range of authors, grouped into three themes - case studies, policies and frameworks, and broad themes. It is described as drawing out ‘lessons from a variety of established and new connectivity conservation initiatives from around Australia, and is complemented by international examples'.

'There's been a dramatic increase in the number of initiatives now operating in the landscape', Associate Professor Wescott says.

'The purpose of the book was to bring together the perspectives of those operating corridor initiatives on the ground with those developing policies for initiatives, and with key ecological and social scientists and experts in governance'.

Associate Professor Wescott says Deakin's School of Life and Environmental Sciences has worked in connectivity conservation for some time and this book keeps the school and the University at the forefront of this critical field of private land biodiversity conservation.

More information about the book can be found on the CSIRO publishing website

 

Discovering treasures under the sea

Researchers from Deakin University's School of Life and Environmental Sciences have teamed up with Parks Victoria on a project to map Wilsons Promontory Marine National Park and reveal what lies beneath its waters.

Playing a key role in the project is Yolla, Deakin's purpose built research vessel. Yolla is part of the University's $5million Warrnambool Marine and Aquaculture Science Research Initiative which is boosting marine research and teaching in regional Australia.

Yolla is fitted with one of the world's most advanced multibeam sonar systems as well as state-of-the-art navigational equipment. Speaking about the project, Deakin environmental scientist Dr Daniel Ierodiaconou said this equipment enables ‘collection of information on a level we have never had before'.

 ‘The data we can collect with Yolla will improve our understanding of the distribution and connectivity of habitats in our coastal waters,' he said.

‘When you look at Google earth, you get to the coastline and you see blue for the most part. This technology enables us to penetrate through the water and see what lies beneath.'

To date, discoveries by researchers on the project include:

  • A 30 metre high underwater sand dune
  • An underwater sand spit more than 2 km long
  • Holes around 80 to 90 metres deep

Read the full media release about the Wilsons Promontory mapping project on the Parks Victoria website.

Photo 1: Yolla, Deakin University's purpose built research vessel.
Photo 2: An image captured with Yolla's research equipment during the Wilsons Promontory project showing the SS. Gulf of Carpentaria wreck in 40 metres of water and the underwater granite mountain that led to its demise in 1885.

 

Visit paves way for continued collaboration

Professor Hongbin Wang, from Yunnan University of Nationalities in China, says his time at Deakin University has been an ‘unforgettable experience’ and one he will value for the rest of his life. Professor Wang finished his visit to Deakin in late July.

Professor Wang arrived at Deakin in August last year as a visiting scholar at the Centre for Chemistry and Biotechnology (CCB) and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, based at the Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus. His visit came about following meeting and working with Deakin’s Dr Wenrong Yang, when Wenrong was in China.

Professor Wang’s field is environmental chemistry, with his research focusing on water treatment and analytical chemistry. The purpose of his visit to Deakin was to carry out research work and also study Deakin’s teaching and laboratory management.

Professor Wang says he gained a great deal during his time at Deakin and was greatly impressed by 'the beautiful campuses, advances in research, new teaching ideas, openness, efficiency in teaching and lab management’.

During his time at Deakin, Professor Wang participated in Centre for the Chemistry and Biotechnology’s bio-nanotechnology research projects and attended two international conferences. Three papers Professor Wang has been involved with during his time at Deakin have been accepted for publication and further collaborations are planned.

Professor Wang’s students in China were also able to share in his time at Deakin through a blog he kept during his visit. He says he will also tell his students about study opportunities in Australia when he returns.

Professor Wang thanked Deakin, the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and CCB for their support during his visit, and in particularly Professor Colin Barrow and Dr Wenrong Yang.

 


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