Life and Environmental Sciences news 2012

17/06/2013 Keeping the conversation going about extinction

28/05/2013 Nanoparticle research planting seeds for success

21/05/2013 LES researchers finding out what's Pozible

26/04/2013 Conference examines the price of progress on health

26/03/2013 Deakin recruits sonar expert for marine mapping

22/03/2013 Peptides helping researchers in search for Parkinson’s disease treatment

21/03/2013 Ending the wildlife Catastrophe

20/03/2013 International visitors to LES

12/03/2013 Deakin researchers on the road with Catalyst

04/12/2012 Males stick to their individual style for luring the ladies, regardless of success rate

29/11/2012 Birds of a feather

29/08/2012 Sooty owl research receives best paper accolade

28/07/2012 Aquaculture journal makes an impact

25/05/2012 Uncovering the secret lives of fish in marine national parks

22/05/2012 Prestigious award for early-career scientist

18/05/2012 An insect's eye view of finding home

08/05/2012 Aquaculture research honoured

26/03/2012 Revolutionary research honoured

19/03/2012 Let's put Dingoes and Devils to work to restore our degraded habitats, argue academics

16/03/2012 Grant to further research into devastating plant disease

13/03/2012 Allergy-free eggs to be produced by Deakin University and CSIRO

12/03/2012 Chemistry HDR graduate awarded prestigious von Humboldt Fellowship

09/03/2012 Marine biology students in the field and in the news

LES news homepage


Keeping the conversation going about extinction

 From a tweet by Stephen Fry to his nearly six million followers to media interviews around the country, Deakin University ecologist Dr Euan Ritchie (School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Centre for Integrative Ecology) has been busy getting his message out about what he describes as ‘society’s biggest challenge, and arguably failure: the continuing loss of species from Earth’.

His opinion piece on The Conversation website, ‘Extinction: just how bad is it and why should we care?’, was prompted by a simple wish from Dr Ritchie’s five-year-old son that extinction ‘wasn’t forever’ because the world is missing ‘amazing animals’.

‘Extinction affects all of us and perhaps none more deeply than our children, as my son’s words demonstrate,’ says Dr Ritchie.

‘Because of our impacts, we are now losing thousands of species from our planet each year, leaving us culturally, economically, emotionally and environmentally all the poorer.’

Animal extinction is also the focus of a project Dr Ritchie is working on with Jim Thomas and the Tenkile Conservation Alliance (TCA) to undertake the first comprehensive camera trapping study of animals in the remote Torricelli Mountain range in Papua New Guinea.

With the title ‘Discovering Papua New Guinea's Mountain Mammals’, the aim of the project is to provide ‘crucial knowledge’ about endangered species in this region including the critically endangered Tenkile or Scott’s Tree Kangaroo and Weimang or Golden-mantled Tree Kangaroo.

It was recently launched as part of Deakin’s Research My World initiative, in conjunction with crowdfunding site, which gives members of the public the opportunity to make donations to a range of unique research projects that appeal to their interests and concerns.

Both the opinion piece and the project have received interest from the media and Dr Ritchie says it is vital we continue the conversation about extinction and its implications.

‘Losing any species due to our actions is a tragedy - whether it be a polar bear, a parasite or a rare orchid - they all have a right to exist. But more practically we need to realise we are critically dependant on the species we share planet Earth with.

‘They produce the air we breath, pollinate our food crops, store carbon, increase soil fertility and even reduce the likelihood of pest and disease outbreaks, to name but a few services. All of these services are provided for free and most cannot be replaced. Without such services our own survival is unlikely.’

Dr Ritchie in the media:

Calling on a crowd to fund research into creatures great and small’, The Age, 5 May 2013
Radio Australia interview, 8 May 2013
Einstein A Go Go radio interview on 3RRR, 19 May 2013
The Wire, Radio Adelaide, 24 May 2013
Our national parks must be more than playgrounds or paddocks’, The Conversation website, 24 May 2013
Bush Telegraph, (Managing National Parks), Radio National, 3 June 2013


Nanoparticle research planting seeds for success

 Work by researchers from Deakin University’s Centre for Chemistry and Biotechnology, School of Life and Environmental Sciences (LES), into the use of nanomaterials in plants has been highlighted with the publication of papers in two highly regarded journals.

A paper by LES PhD candidate Pavani Nadiminti was published online by ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces in February this year:

Titled ‘Nanostructured Liquid Crystalline Particles as an Alternative Delivery Vehicle for Plant Agrochemicals’, the paper was co-authored by Professor David Cahill and Dr James Rookes from LES together with colleagues from Monash University and Nufarm Limited.

It discusses the use of nanostructured liquid crystalline particles (NLCP) as an alternative to surfactant-based agrochemical delivery.

‘Lipid-based nanoparticles have been around for quite a while especially in the pharmaceutical industry but they have not been used for delivering molecules to plants,’ explains Mr Nadiminti.

‘Here we have used them to replace the surfactant chemicals that have been traditionally used to enable penetration of agrochemicals into plant leaves. The benefit of this is that surfactants can be toxic to the environment and cause leaf damage to the plant, but NLCPs do not.’

In May, a paper by Dr Hashmath Hussain, Associate Research Fellow LES was published online in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research: Co-authors on the paper are PhD candidate Zhifeng Yi and Professor Lingxue Kong from Deakin’s Institute of Frontier Materials and Professor David Cahill and Dr James Rookes from LES.

The paper is titled ‘Mesoporous silica nanoparticles as a biomolecule delivery vehicle in plants’ and discusses the potential of these nanoparticles to be used to successfully deliver agrochemicals or biomolecules to plants.

‘The mesoporous silica nanoparticles were used for the first time - to our knowledge - in a direct uptake mechanism by plants,’ explained Dr Hussain. ‘They have been used in isolated plant cells, but the delivery of these nanoparticles to intact plants without any damage to the plants was very good novel work in this area.’

Although the research is in its very early stages, Dr Hussain said using the mesoporous silica nanoparticles as a targeted delivery mechanism to plants could have a number of potential benefits.

These include more efficient use of agrochemicals through limiting the amount applied to the amount the plant can take up, and restricting the agrochemicals to the target plant, helping to prevent them reaching the environment.

Professor David Cahill, Associate Dean (Research) in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences and a co-author on the two papers, says the work demonstrates the potential of research collaborations.

‘The research being undertaken by Pavani, Hashmath and their colleagues is at the forefront of research on the application of nanoparticles to plants. Even though we still have much to learn, these two papers show the clear advantages interdisciplinary and novel approaches can bring to addressing real world problems.’

Photo: Pavani Nadiminti (left) and Dr Hashmath Hussain


LES researchers finding out what’s Pozible

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

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:

You can also view all the Deakin projects on the Deakin Research My World page on the Pozible site.
Read the full media release about the Research My World initiative.


Conference examines the price of progress on health

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.


Deakin recruits sonar expert for marine mapping

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.’


Peptides helping researchers in search for Parkinson’s disease treatment

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.

Full media release


Ending the wildlife Catastrophe

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.'

Full story including a link to the interview


International visitors to LES

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

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.


Deakin researchers on the road with Catalyst

cadetThe 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.

Males stick to their individual style for luring the ladies, regardless of success rate

cadetRecent findings by Alfred Deakin Professor John Endler and Dr Laura Kelley, Centre of Integrative Ecology, have been published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

Professor Endler and Dr Kelley have been studying the mating habits of the great bowerbird. Their focus has been on the importance of the visual illusions the birds create within their bowers in attracting females and ultimate mating success. (Bowers consist of a tunnel of sticks leading to a court area decorated with stones, shells and bones built specifically for mating purposes.)

Their recent findings show that while the male great bowerbird might be a master of visual trickery when it comes to luring females into their bower, they have a distinct way of decorating that they rigidly stick with, regardless of how successful they are at attracting mates.

‘We know from our previous research that the quality of the visual illusion the males create with the objects in their bowers predicts their likelihood of attracting a mate,’ Professor Endler explained.

‘We now know that each bird has a preferred approach that they stick to, even if that approach is not attractive to females, and regardless of the help we gave them in improving the quality of their display.’

Read the full media release


Birds of a feather

cadetFlocks of red and yellow rosellas in southern Australia are playing a leading role in helping Deakin researchers solve a longstanding riddle about the creation of new avian species.

Traditionally, it has been believed that geographical barriers were the causes of changes in species, but according to Dr Mathew Berg, School of Life and Environmental Sciences and the Centre for Integrative Ecology, learned cultural characteristics, particularly birdsong, can also lead to these variations.

Reflecting the importance of this breakthrough work, Dr Berg and a team of researchers from Deakin and the CSIRO have just had a paper published in the prestigious journal PLOS ONE titled: ‘Learned vocal variation is associated with abrupt cryptic genetic change in a parrot species complex’.

‘The traditional idea of how a new species would come about is that a population would get separated by a geographic barrier,’ Dr Berg said.

‘They are physically prevented from exchanging their genes and so gradually over a period of time they will evolve to become different species.

‘We think it is not always that simple, because in southern Australia we have places where there is no physical separation between species, but where changes have occurred in the colouring of their plumage.’

cadetInland, the rosellas have yellow plumage, on the coast, it is red and in South Australia, there is a mix of the two colours.
‘One of the ideas proposed for this is that traits or characteristics that are transmitted culturally... these are things that are learned like language... might play an important role in triggering the process because in the early stages, they don’t rely on genetic differences for evolving,’ Dr Berg said.

‘They can change quite rapidly, and in a lot of species, vocalisations that they learn are also known to be involved in who individuals prefer to mate with.

‘So you might get these changes taking place quite quickly before any genetic changes can happen and they might cause different mate preferences or other differences between populations to take place.

‘That might then snowball, preventing the exchange of genes between certain populations in the same way a physical barrier might.’

Read more about the team’s research.


Sooty owl research receives best paper accolade

Dr Rohan Bilney, School of Life and Environmental Sciences PhD graduate, has won the Australian Journal of Zoology’s Best Student Paper Award.

The award is presented annually to the best paper in the journal that arises from student work. Papers are judged by a panel of editors on how well they ‘make an international impact in zoological research using Australasian animals’. The editors noted that Rohan’s paper involved ‘a considerable amount of work on a difficult species and presented important findings that would likely have international interest - in addition to important conservation implications’.

Rohan’s paper - Reversed sexual dimorphism and altered prey base: the effect on sooty owl (Tyto tenebricosa tenebricosa) - was co-authored with his PhD supervisors Dr Raylene Cooke and Dr John White, also both from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

‘Australian predators, such as the Sooty Owl, are likely to have been significantly affected by declines in distribution and abundance of small mammals - which are their main dietary items - following European settlement,’ Rohan explained. ‘It is therefore important for Sooty Owl conservation that we have a detailed understanding of their diet and how they have adapted to ecological changes. An interesting aspect of their diet relates to differences between the sexes due to the significant size differences between males and females, which is the greatest of any owl species in the world.’

As well as being honoured to receive the award, Rohan said it was especially rewarding to receive recognition for his research. As part of his prize, Rohan will be profiled in an upcoming issue of the journal. Dr Cooke said the award was very much deserved.

‘Working on Australian owls is very challenging, with the Sooty Owl being no exception,’ she said. ‘Rohan worked extremely hard, in very difficult terrain, to collect data on these owls and this award is certainly deserved.’

Rohan is currently working for an environmental consultancy called Wildlife Unlimited which is based in his home town of Bairnsdale.


Aquaculture journal makes an impact

The news that Reviews in Aquaculture had received an Impact Factor (IF) of 4.036 in the ISI Journal Citation Reports© Ranking: 2011* was cause for celebration in Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

Reviews in Aquaculture is a relatively new journal,’ explained Dr Giovanni Turchini, a fish nutrition scientist with the School based at Deakin’s Warrnambool Campus. ‘It was published for the first time in 2009 and was conceived and developed by Professor Sena De Silva, now Honorary Professor in the School, together with Dr Albert Tacon. The editorial manager is another Deakin staff member, Dr Thuy T.T. Nguyen.’

Professor De Silva came to Deakin in 1992 from the National University of Singapore and succeeded in building a team of researchers in aquaculture at Warrnambool, and gradually established a global reputation for its research. Until his retirement in 2006, when he opted to take up the Director General position of the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA), an inter-governmental agency based in Bangkok, Professor De Silva was a leading researcher in the School and Faculty and was elected an Honorary Life Member of the World Aquaculture Society in 2005.

The ranking makes Reviews in Aquaculture, which is published by Wiley, the second highest IF journal in the category of Fisheries (and the highest of any Australian scientific journal). According to its website, the primary aim of the journal is to ‘provide a forum of reviews on developments in aquaculture techniques, policies and planning’. Professor De Silva said the ranking was particularly pleasing because Reviews in Aquaculture was indexed within three years of publication, when the average time for a journal to be indexed is seven years.

For Dr Turchini, the result was pleasing on a personal as well as a professional level.

‘I am particularly happy and proud of this result as Sena has been, is and will always be, my mentor. He is always very supportive of all research activities at the Warrnambool Campus,’ he said.

‘This is a truly fantastic journal which, I think, will increasingly be shaping the aquaculture sector globally, something which is particularly fitting for Deakin’s new worldly focus.’

* Impact Factor: 4.036 ISI Journal Citation Reports© Ranking: 2011: 2/48 (Fisheries)

Photo: (l-r) Shyamalie Senadheera, Sena De Silva, Giovanni Turchini


Uncovering the secret lives of fish in marine national parks

In a research partnership between Deakin University and Parks Victoria, marine scientists have captured rare video footage of fish and other marine creatures living on the seafloor off western Victoria.

Researchers have for the first time captured high resolution video of fish and other sea creatures in their natural habitat 100 metres below the ocean surface at Discovery Bay Marine National Park, 20 kilometres west of Portland. The video footage is part of a project to understand the links between the characteristics of the seafloor and fish communities across Victoria’s marine national parks and sanctuaries.

'Ultimately we want to know what it is about particular areas along the seafloor that attract certain fish and other sea creatures,' said Dr Daniel Ierodiaconou, from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences and the project’s lead researcher.

'Thanks to the latest in underwater video technology we are able to drop cameras to much lower depths than previously possible. The high resolution, continuous seafloor information we are filming is rare and for the first time we can see how marine creatures live on and near the seafloor.'

Full media release and video


Prestigious award for early-career scientist

Deakin PhD graduate Dr Arati Agarwal has recently been announced as the winner of the Australian Society of Plant Scientists-Functional Plant Biology (ASPS-FPB) Best Paper Award for 2011. Presented annually by the journal Functional Plant Biology, published by CSIRO, the award recognises the best paper published in the journal in each calendar year by an early-career scientist.

Titled ‘Analysis of global host gene expression during the primary phase of the Arabidopsis thaliana-Plasmodiophora brassicae interaction’, the paper, based on Arati’s PhD research, was published in Functional Plant Biology, 2011, 38, 462-478. The paper is co-authored with an international team including Professor Jutta Ludwig-Müller of the Technical University Dresden, Germany, scientists from the Victorian Department of Primary Industries and David Cahill (Arati’s PhD supervisor) and James Rookes from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

The paper discusses a study that provided further critical insights into the biology of P. brassicae during clubroot disease development. Clubroot disease is of worldwide significance and in Australia is an economically important disease of brassica crops such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower. Importantly, as outlined in the paper’s conclusion, the study demonstrated that in the early stages of the interaction, suppression of defence-related genes during invasion and colonisation by the pathogen appears to be necessary for the establishment of the pathogen within host roots. This finding may allow targeting of specific genes and signalling pathways for disease control.

Arati received her PhD in 2009 and now works with the Department of Primary Industries Biosciences Research Division. She said she was very proud to receive the award, describing it as the ‘highest accolade she could have dreamt of’. She is also looking forward to attending ComBio2012 in Adelaide in September this year where she has been invited to present her work in a symposium and officially be presented with her award.


An insect’s eye view of finding home

The way insects, and other animals, visually find their way back home will be the topic of an exciting public lecture at Deakin University’s Geelong Waterfront Campus in June by Professor Jochen Zeil from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra.

How humans and other animals learn the location of places in the world - how to avoid some and visit others repeatedly - is crucial for their survival and reproduction. It is at the heart of feeding, finding mates, avoiding predators, defending territories and migration. Much has been learned about the sensory cues and computations needed for insects (and robots and humans) to find their way back to places. In his fascinating lecture, Professor Zeil will discuss visual homing in insects, how they do it and how this helps us understand homing in humans and other animals.

The lecture is the finale of the three-day scientific conference of the Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASSAB), being hosted by Deakin’s Centre for Integrative Ecology. Professor Zeil is President of ASSAB, and Professor of Ecological Neuroscience at ANU. Deakin’s Professor Andy T.D. Bennett, chair of the conference organising committee, said it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to host the event.

“Deakin has an excellent national and international standing in zoology, ecology, and animal behaviour,” Professor Bennett said. “We have numerous experts studying animal behaviour in the context of understanding animal colouration, migration, disease transmission, animal personality, wildlife and marine ecology, and conservation of native species, many of whom have received major recognition for their work both here in Australia and internationally.

“It is a pleasure to now be able to host this conference in animal behaviour, which brings together many of Australasia’s experts in animal behaviour and to highlight Deakin University as a rapidly growing centre of research excellence in Australia.”

The How Animals Find Home: An Insect Perspective public lecture is on Thursday 28 June at Costa Hall, Deakin University Geelong Waterfront Campus, 1 Gheringhap Street, Geelong commencing at 5.30 pm. Entry to Costa Hall is from Gheringhap Street.

Deakin staff, students and interested members of the public are most welcome to attend the lecture. There is no charge for attending. To assist with numbers, RSVPs are open. Please RSVP to Dr Pete Biro -

Image courtesy Ruediger Wehner


Aquaculture research honoured

Dr Giovanni Turchini from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences has been honoured at the Australian Aquaculture Awards.

Dr Turchini, who is based at Deakin’s Warrnambool campus, is part of a collaborative team involving researchers from the University of Tasmania, the CSIRO and the Australian Institute of Marine Science which has won the Aquaculture Science Research Award.

“This is excellent news, not just as recognition for Giovanni’s outstanding research but also highlighting a really significant collaboration with two of Australia’s main Commonwealth research organisations and another university,” said Professor Gerry Quinn, Chair in Marine Biology in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences.

The winning project is titled Fish Oil Replacement in Australian Aquafeed and is helping Australian aquaculturists plan for a more economically and environmentally secure future by reducing dependence on imported fish oil as an ingredient in aquafeed.

Read more about the award...


Revolutionary research honoured

Deakin University's Professor John Endler has been honoured by the Australian Academy of Science. Professor Endler, a researcher within Deakin's School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Centre for Integrative Ecology (CIE), has been made a Fellow of the Academy.

Representing Australia’s leading research scientists, the Australian Academy of Science annually honours a small number of Australian scientists for their outstanding contributions to science, by election to the Academy. The Academy's citation for Professor Endler reads: Revolutionising the understanding of how animals perceive the world and pioneering the new science of sensory ecology.



Let's put Dingoes and Devils to work to restore our degraded habitats, argue academics

Australia should consider actively conducting a large-scale project where populations of native apex predators - the dingo and the Tasmanian devil - are allowed to recolonise habitats where they once occurred as a way of restoring fragile ecosystems, Dr Euan Ritchie in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences has argued.

In an opinion piece published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, last month, Dr Ritchie and international colleagues from a number of universities argue that apex predators such as the dingo and Tasmanian devil can help ecosystems buffer against or ameliorate significant environmental challenges, including biological invasion, disease transmission and climate change.

‘I acknowledge this is a pretty radical argument and there are some negative effects that must be addressed but we believe it is something land managers need to consider, desperate times need bold measures,’ Dr Ritchie said.

Read the full media release


Grant to further research into devastating plant disease

Deakin University PhD candidate Dean Phillips has been awarded a $22,000 grant to support his research into ways of controlling the devastating plant disease Phytophthora, a pathogen best known for causing the Irish potato famine in the 1840s, and Dieback, which kills many Australian native plants.

Dean received the Horticulture Australia Limited (HAL) Award for his research into ‘curing Phytophthora plant diseases by targeting a genetic missing link’ as part of this year’s Science and Innovation Awards for Young People in Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig, presented the awards at a gala dinner in Canberra recently.

Associate Professor Peter Beech, from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences at Burwood and Dean's PhD supervisor, describes Dean's work as potentially of great importance in the search for a cure for Phytophthora.

'This is a wonderful example of a student using novel methods - which he has largely developed himself - to open a window to future control of this very widespread pathogen,' says Associate Professor Beech.

'Phytophthora not only decimates our native flora, but it is responsible for billions of dollars in crop losses around the world each year. I also love that this is a truly cross-campus effort, with Dean having worked closely with our ever-generous colleagues in LES at Geelong: most notably Professor Dave Cahill's (Dean's co-supervisor) plant pathogen group, and the chemists Gail Dyson, Xavier Conlan and Luke Henderson. Dean's award from HAL is a great recognition of his and others' efforts and the potential of the work.'

Dean - who also did his undergraduate degree at Deakin in Environmental Management - plans to use 'cutting-edge technology' to develop targeted antibiotics to control the Phytophthora pathogen. His current research builds on his earlier discovery of a protein unique to Phytophthora.

‘I have always been intrigued by the idea of using molecular techniques more commonly associated with medical science to solve our most pressing environmental problems,’ explains Dean.  ‘And I am hopeful that this research will result in a cure for this devastating disease.’


Chemistry HDR graduate awarded prestigious von Humboldt Fellowship

Deakin University PhD graduate Dr Daniel Priebbenow can now proudly call himself a ‘Humboldtian’, after recently being awarded a two-year, fully-funded Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship.

‘These highly esteemed fellowships are awarded purely on the basis of academic merit,’ explains Dr Fred Pfeffer, Daniel’s principal supervisor from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences. ‘The AVH scheme teams the recipients with top researchers in Germany. Around 600 are awarded annually worldwide to people from all disciplines and, since 1953, 48 recipients have gone on to become Nobel laureates.’

For Daniel, becoming a Humboldtian is an honour.

‘I was very excited and privileged to be awarded an Alexander von Humboldt Fellowship,’ Daniel says. ‘Germany is well regarded by the rest of the world as one of the leading countries for research in chemistry and, as such, this fellowship will allow me to learn from, and collaborate with, some of the most renowned organic chemists in the world.

‘The benefits of the fellowship are not just for the next two years, it will continue to provide me with incredible opportunities and support for the rest of my career.’

Daniel’s PhD research at Deakin University focussed on new and rapid ways to construct pharmaceutically important heterocyclic molecules using the transition metal Palladium as a catalyst. Dr Pfeffer says Daniel emerged from his PhD program with four internationally refereed papers, the Rex Williamson Prize, a Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI) travel award to attend an international symposium in Norway, and an invited student lecture at the National Heterocyclic chemistry conference - one of only three to be selected Australia-wide. And to cap it off, Dr Pfeffer says, his thesis required no corrections prior to acceptance!

The research project Daniel will be working on in Germany will focus on combining transition metal catalysis (e.g. copper, iron and palladium catalysts) and organocatalysis (e.g. chiral phosphoric acids or proline based catalysts). The ability of dual-catalytic systems to facilitate a range of transformations, not previously possible by organocatalysts or transition-metal complexes alone, has generated a great deal of recent attention. A number of the products arising from these new reactions are valuable for the synthesis of both natural products and pharmaceuticals hence new, more efficient, pathways to access these compounds.

Put in more simple terms, Daniel will be developing cutting edge methods for the rapid construction of complex molecules for the pharmaceutical sector.


Marine biology students in the field and in the news

A field trip by second-year marine biology students was the topic of a news story in the Warrnambool Standard recently. Dr Alecia Bellgrove from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences said the main focus of the project was for students to sample the biodiversity of marine organisms in the local environment.

Forty-one students collected samples of organisms from a variety of different marine and estuarine habitats from Warrnambool to Port Fairy over the course of a four-day fieldtrip.

Read the full story here


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