Life and Environmental Sciences news archive

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

06/2013 Keeping the conversation going about extinction

05/2013 Nanoparticle research planting seeds for success

05/2013 LES researchers finding out what's Pozible

04/2013 Conference examines the price of progress on health

03/2013 Deakin recruits sonar expert for marine mapping

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

03/2013 Ending the wildlife Catastrophe

03/2013 International visitors to LES

03/2013 Deakin researchers on the road with Catalyst

LES news homepage


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, 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:

Dr Ritchie says during the trip, regular updates will be featured on The Conversation website:

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:


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:


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


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:

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:

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: .


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.


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.

Back to top