Faculty news archive

27/06/2013 Push for the winning edge in competition

26/06/2013 Fellowship helps maggot research fly

24/06/2013 Community approach to measuring traffic noise

21/06/2013 Challenging students to discover science and engineering

28/05/2013 Nanoparticle research planting seeds for success

27/05/2013 Project to catalogue web security threats

23/05/2013 New group aims to LEAD the way for female engineering students

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

25/03/2013 New engineering labs spark new opportunities

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

21/03/2013 Ending the wildlife Catastrophe

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

23/11/2012 CADET project gets the green light

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

14/08/2012 Collaboration further strengthens ties with China

27/07/2012 Celebrating how engineers 'make it so'

26/07/2012 Deakin Nao!

24/07/2012 Fur seal research receives conference award

20/07/2012 Go Girls Go for IT!

25/06/2012 Gold prize for research into making coloured concrete

18/06/2012 Tribute for inspiring work in IT

10/06/2012 Discovery of giant bird fossil make headlines

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

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

21/05/2012 Top 10 result for Deakin CISCO academy

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

08/05/2012 Aquaculture research honoured

26/03/2012 Revolutionary research honoured

21/03/2012 New Research Centre for the School of IT

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

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

Faculty news homepage


 

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

Recent 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

studentsFlocks 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.’

birdsInland, 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.

 

CADET project gets the green light

buildingDeakin Vice Chancellor, Professor Jane den Hollander, today welcomed the Federal Government's announcement of funding for the university's new Centre for Advanced Design in Engineering Training (CADET) at Geelong Waurn Ponds campus.

The $55 million state-of-the-art engineering facility has been announced as a successful project for funding under the Gillard Government's Regional Priorities Round of the Education Investment Fund (EIF).

EIF Funding of $21.5 million has been provided and Deakin will contribute the remainder.

“This is very welcome news not only for Deakin but for the Geelong economy and for the broader south-west region as this centre will bring new skills to the region, providing opportunities for the engineering jobs of the future,” Professor den Hollander said.

Deakin lodged its funding application in partnership with the Gordon Institute of TAFE earlier this year.

CADET will emphasise product design and development through virtual and physical modelling, simulation and prototyping and will offer programs for young people right from Year 8 through to PhD level.

“Through this centre we hope to build aspiration for careers in engineering, particularly amongst young women who are currently under-represented in the profession,” she said.

“To ensure that our programs hit the mark, we have been working closely with Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College and Belmont High School as strategic partners to design the educational program for CADET.

“This project is a great example of secondary, vocational and tertiary education working together to design programs that will be applicable for all sectors and building the skills base to address a need in the community,” she said.

Secondary schools from across the south-west region and beyond will use the centre to demonstrate to students the opportunities that are available in an engineering career.

The centre will also provide for enhanced articulation pathways between the VET sector and Deakin.

In developing the concept for CADET, Deakin drew on new and emerging pedagogies in Asia, Europe and the United States and the new facility will have an emphasis on design with a problem-based learning approach.

“Australia has a critical shortage of engineers to cope with the demand for major infrastructure and technology projects and this centre will go some way to addressing that skills shortage in the Australian economy,” Professor den Hollander said.

“We have been encouraged by the widespread support for our bid from across the Geelong community and from organisations such as Engineers Australia,” she said.

Professor den Hollander said that CADET was a project that was important to Geelong with its economy in transformation.

“This is the future,” she said.

“CADET will help to build the skills across the region for the manufacturing jobs of tomorrow.”

Economic modelling by the City of Greater Geelong suggests that, during construction, the project will generate up to 187 new jobs in Geelong with an economic impact of around $160 million.

 

Sooty owl research receives best paper accolade

Rohan BilneyDr 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.

 

Collaboration further strengthens ties with China

Jane den HollanderA new collaborative partnership between Deakin University and Central China Normal University will help both teachers and students to better realise the educational potential of cutting-edge technologies.

The Information Technology for Future Education Joint Research Lab, located at Deakin’s Melbourne Burwood Campus, was officially opened on Wednesday 18 July by Deakin Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander and Central China Normal University (CCNU) President Professor Yang Zongkai. Also speaking at the opening ceremony were City of Melbourne Councillor Brian Shanahan OAM and Dr Sun Hongzhi, Consul (Education) of the Consulate-General of the People’s Republic of China in Melbourne.

Following the official opening, guests were treated to a number of presentations and demonstrations. These included the use of interactive whiteboards donated to Deakin by CCNU to show how traditional board-based teaching techniques could be enhanced using cutting-edge software currently under development by CCNU.  Another feature was a display of group robot tai chi from Deakin, which illustrated the use of robots as a way for students to learn skills in interactive programming.

In his presentation, Professor Wanlei Zhou, Head of Deakin’s School of IT, noted that a key advantage provided by technological advances is that the world’s best specialists in a given research field can now collaborate closely together despite constraints of location and time. In this case, two groups of researchers on two different continents will be able to work in tandem, and use their combined expertise to jointly apply for research grants. Future outcomes of this Deakin-CCNU partnership may also include the provision of joint courses available to students at either institution, and perhaps the expansion of such a program to include institutions in other parts of the world.

This collaboration will also serve to further strengthen the ties between Deakin and China. China has been the source of many of Deakin’s innovative research collaborations, renowned academic staff and high-performing students.

Photo: Deakin University Vice-Chancellor Professor Jane den Hollander with Central China Normal University (CCNU) President Professor Yang Zongkai at the opening.

 

Celebrating how engineers 'make it so’

engineering week logoDeakin’s School of Engineering is a sponsor of Australian Engineering Week (AEW), happening nationally from Monday 6 August to Sunday 12 August. Coordinated by Engineers Australia, the week has the slogan 'if you can imagine it, engineers make it so’ and celebrates and promotes the work of engineers at a variety of events.

As part of its activities during the week, the School is hosting two events at Deakin’s Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus, both designed to give secondary school students an insight into what a career in engineering can offer.

On Monday 6 August, the School, in collaboration with humanitarian relief personnel training agency Red R Australia, Engineers Australia and AKORN Educational Services, is hosting a 'Year 9 Engineering Students @ Work Humanitarian Conference Day’.

Year 9 students from schools across the Geelong region are participating in the day, including Belmont High School, Geelong Baptist College, Newcomb Secondary College, Geelong Lutheran College, Surf Coast Secondary and Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College. Students will come together in teams made up of participants from each school to work on a project brief developed by Red R incorporating a real-life humanitarian event. The aim is to help students gain an understanding of engineering and the various opportunities it offers. Deakin engineering staff and students and engineers from Geelong industry will work with the teams to develop strategies for addressing the various issues presented in the project scenario.

'Humanitarian Day is a wonderful opportunity for Deakin engineering students, staff and local industry to engage with high school students from the Geelong region and provide them with an opportunity to experience first-hand the diverse roles professional engineers may undertake, as well provide an insight into life as an university student,’ says Professor Guy Littlefair, Head of Deakin's School of Engineering.

The second event Deakin and the School is hosting is the Victorian Science and Engineering Superchallenge on Friday August 10.

The Science and Engineering Challenge is an outreach program designed to inspire Year 10 students to study science and engineering at a senior level. Deakin was again the host for the Geelong region Challenge in May this year. The Superchallenge will see the winning schools from the Victorian regional Challenges come to Deakin to vie for the title of Winning School, Victoria.

Competing at the Superchallenge will be students representing Bendigo South East Secondary College, Creek Street Christian College, Scotch College, Melbourne Girls College, Lowther Hall Anglican Grammar School, Whitefriars College and, the Geelong regional winners, Belmont High School and Christian College Geelong.

As well as Deakin’s School of Engineering, proud sponsors of the event are Rotary 9784 and Barwon Water and it is supported by the University of Newcastle.

These two events should provide a great opportunity for participating secondary school students to discover the possibilities of a career in engineering and how, as an engineer, they can 'make it so'.

 

Deakin Nao!

robotsThe Games and Interactive Virtual Environments (GIVE) group in the School of Information Technology has recently acquired four Nao humanoid robots (pronounced 'now') as part of its Future Technologies Initiative. The FTI is a theme of teaching and research focusing on the new frontiers of interactive technology.

The robots will be used to enhance teaching and learning to produce the next generation of technologists capable of designing and developing applications for embodied technologies: computing systems that interact with their environment through perception, reasoning and action.

The robots will also support research into interaction with embodied devices, as well as support the marketing activities of the School in outreach activities and Open Day, to inspire children and youth to consider careers in IT and broader technology areas.

The Nao robot is a 57 cm humanoid robot with 25 degrees of freedom. It has a range of inbuilt sensors, including two cameras, sonar, infrared, contact and tactile, accelerometers and gyros. Nao is capable of object recognition, face detection and recognition, text-to-speech, speech recognition, sound detection and localisation. Nao can speak eight languages and conduct speech recognition in seven of these, including English and Chinese.
Read more ...

 

Fur seal research receives conference award

Travis KnoxThe 49th Annual Conference of the Australian Marine Sciences Association in early July was Travis Knox’s (School of Life and Environmental Sciences) first conference experience and it was a successful one, being awarded the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation Best Poster in the area of science and conservation of marine vertebrates.

Travis recently completed his honours study with Associate Professor John Arnould from the School as his supervisor, and it was this research that won Travis his award, with his poster entitled 'Analysis of growth and stable isotopes in teeth of male Australian fur seals reveal inter-annual variability in prey resources’.

'It was an absolute honour to be recognised for my research so early in my career,’ Travis says.

'It was my first conference experience, and winning the award has given me a huge confidence boost because other scientists took a genuine interest in my work. Many were intrigued by the information that is available within the teeth of these mammals, and how it can be applied to a broader environmental scope.’

Travis did a Bachelor of Teaching (Science) / Bachelor of Science at the Melbourne Burwood Campus, majoring in Environmental Science, before completing honours with Associate Professor Arnould. Travis says he plans to continue to focus on his research.

'I am hoping to commence my PhD next year, continuing to work on the Australian fur seal, in particular contributing to reducing the current knowledge gap on males.

'After my PhD, I would be looking to combine both of my degrees in the field of academia. I have a particular interest in exploring foraging ecology in marine mammals. My overall goal in the area of marine science would be to spend time working on seals or penguins in Antarctica or on the sub-antarctic islands.’

The research by Travis and Associate Professor Arnould examined tooth growth patterns within the dentine growth layer groups of 67 male Australian fur seal teeth collected at Seal Rocks, in Bass Strait, south eastern Australia between 1967-1973. Clear fluctuations in relative growth were apparent between 1956-1971, suggesting large inter-annual variations in food availability within Bass Strait. These fluctuations were found to be significantly correlated to winter Bass Strait sea surface temperature, wind speed and the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) on a two- year lag.

 

Go Girls Go for IT!

GO Girls eventFor two days in June, Deakin’s Melbourne Burwood Campus played host to the Go Girl, Go for IT 2012 (GG4IT) event, the fourth time it has hosted the event. An initiative of Women are IT and proudly presented by the Vic ICT for Women Network, this year the innovative careers showcase for secondary student girls had 750 students and teachers participating. Deakin’s involvement was headed by Associate Professor Jo Coldwell-Neilson (School of Information Technology) and Associate Professor Annemieke Craig (School of Information Systems).

Supported by generous sponsors and powered by many passionate volunteers, GG4IT was a free event designed to deliver some targeted messages about careers in IT in a fun and engaging forum. The aim was for students to be motivated to consider a career in technology by what they saw and heard during the event. Key messages were that careers in IT are incredibly diverse and study paths are many and varied.

Participating students had many positive role models over the two days including 2012 patron Janet Matton, VP of Operations at IBM, Australia and NZ and two Young Patrons in Jessica Scott and Tammy Butow, together with a stellar line-up of speakers.

At the lunchtime trade show, students had an opportunity to interact with some of Australia’s top IT employers and discuss the range of career options available in the field. This highlighted the practical ways studying IT can provide a head start for any occupation. Feedback during the event was that the speakers really hit the mark, engaging the girls and demonstrating how IT training helps open doors and create opportunities for everyone.

The event would not have been possible without the fantastic support of so many Schools and Divisions within Deakin. Special thanks go to Deakin event management, warehousing, ITS and Scanning Operations. Thank you all!

 

Gold prize for research into making coloured concrete

Buthainah Al-KharabshehDeakin School of Engineering PhD candidate Buthainah Al-Kharabsheh was presented with the Gold Prize at the Korea International Women's Invention Exposition (KIWIE) 2012 held in Seoul in May.

Buthainah received the award in recognition of her research and work into producing coloured concrete through the use of local, raw (earth) materials.

In addition to the Gold Prize, Buthainah also received a Special Prize from the World Women Inventors Entrepreneurs Association (WWIEA), as well as recognition from the Association ‘Russian House for International Scientific and Technological Cooperation' and the State Office of Industrial Property of the Republic of Macedonia.

Buthainah was invited to participate in the exposition, which she attended independently, and said she was the only representative from Australia and Jordan. She said she was delighted, personally and professionally, with the outcome. Attending the exposition with Buthainah was her husband, Hasan Alqawasmeh, also from Deakin's School of Engineering.

‘I am thrilled by my success and it is a dream come true for my hard research work,' Buthainah said.

After beginning her work in this field seven years ago in her home country of Jordan, Buthainah chose to come to Deakin in October last year after receiving offers from a number of other universities internationally. She said she enjoyed engineering because it is 'realistic work, you can see what you do'.

Buthainah said the main features of her invention that were highlighted at the exposition were that it is an environmental friendly improvement idea for the usage of concrete, that no waste material is left after production, the low cost of the material to be mixed with the concrete mix design, and the improvement of some engineering properties of the concrete.

She said many of the inventions at the exposition were related to IT, medicine and modern technology, but her contribution in a field such as engineering was highly appreciated by the different committees at the event.

Buthainah thanked her supervisor at Deakin, Dr Riyadh Al-Ameri, for his encouragement and moral support to attend the event.

 

Tribute for inspiring work in IT

Jo Coldwell-NeilsonThe Victorian Women in ICT Network has paid tribute to Associate Professor Jo Coldwell-Neilson, School of IT, by having her name inscribed on The Shilling Wall at the Queen Victoria Women's Centre.

The Shilling Wall and Garden provide a place in the heart of Melbourne ‘to reflect on inspiring women who have made a difference'. The glass wall is ‘an enduring tribute to women and is inscribed with the names of incredible women, celebrating their roles as mothers, grandmothers, caregivers, sisters, friends, colleagues and community contributors'.

Jo said the tribute was unexpected.

‘This came as a complete surprise,' said Jo. ‘I had no inkling that VIC ICT had nominated me to have my name placed on The Shilling Wall. It is an honour and extremely gratifying to receive such affirmation from my colleagues and peers for the work I have done supporting and encouraging females in and into the IT industry.'

The Shilling Wall name was inspired by the original 1896 'Queen Victoria Shilling Fund' which was established to raise money for the first women's hospital, 'to be run for women, by women'.

The panel with Jo's name will be unveiled later in the year. Congratulations, Jo!

 

Discovery of giant bird fossil make headlines

Travis ParkA paper co-authored by School of Life and Environmental Sciences honours student Travis Park which confirms the discovery of the first fossil in Australia belonging to the Pelagornithidae, or 'giant bony-toothed birds' was published this week in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, generating substantial media interest.

Travis' co-authors on the paper were palaeontologist Dr Erich Fitzgerald (Geosciences, Museum Victoria and lead researcher) and Dr Trevor Worthy (University of New South Wales). According to the paper - Travis' first in this journal - the discovery 'confirms the distribution of pelagornithids on every continent and the global distribution of the genus Pelagornis during the late Neogene'.

'It's a great feeling to have my first publication,' Travis said. 'The discovery of this enigmatic group of seabirds not only adds to our understanding of the diversity of seabirds in the past in Australia, but serves as a reminder of how much more we still have to learn about these ancient ecosystems.'

Dr Fitzgerald is co-supervisor of Travis' honours project, together with Deakin's Professor Guang Shi - also a palaeontologist and LES head of school. Professor Shi said he was very proud of Travis' achievement.

'Travis is very passionate about palaeontology, especially vertebrate fossils,' Professor Shi said. 'I am very pleased and proud to see that one of our honours students is already engaged in publishing research in one of the leading journals in the field.'

Click on the links to read articles about the research in the Herald Sun and The Age.

Photo credit: Museum Victoria / Photographer: Jon Augier

 

Uncovering the secret lives of fish in marine national parks

underwaterIn 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

Arati AgarwalDeakin 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.

 

Justin RoughTop 10 result for Deakin CISCO academy

The School of Information Technology established the Cisco Networking Academy in 2007. Through the academy the school offers the Cisco Academy curriculum that enables both undergraduate and postgraduate students to complement their degree programs with a study of the Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) industry certification curriculum. Cisco certification such as the CCNA is a highly sought after industry certification in Information Technology in the area of computer networks.

Gang Li and Ming LiIn the 2011/2012 quality audit, the School of IT’s Cisco academy was ranked in the top 10 per cent of the 155 Cisco Networking Academies in Australia. This ranking takes into account student progression, retention and performance, as well as the quality of teaching and infrastructure within the academy. This is an excellent achievement for the School and the Cisco Academy.

The School of IT’s Cisco Academy program is led by Dr Justin Rough and the Cisco Academy instructors include Dr Shang Gao, Dr Robin Doss, Dr Ming Li and Dr Gang Li.

 

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 - pete.biro@deakin.edu.au

Image courtesy Ruediger Wehner

 

Aquaculture research honoured

Giovanni TurchiniDr 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.

Read more...

 

New Research Centre for the School of IT

Svetha VenkateshProfessor Svetha Venkatesh, one of Australia's most distinguished researchers, has joined the School of Information Technology to head a new Strategic Research Centre - PRaDA (Pattern Recognition and Data Analytics).

PRaDA's research interests will focus on:

  • graphical models and their application to multi-media surveillance
  • building large-scale observations systems
  • new media capture paradigms

From Curtin University in Western Australia, Professor Venkatesh is joined by her research team: Associate Professor Dinh Phung, Dr Santu Rana (Research Associate), Dr Sunil Gupta (Research Fellow), Dr Budhaditya Saha (Research Fellow), Dr Thi Duong, Dr Thin Nguyen and Dr Truyen Tran. They are all based at the Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus.

Professor Venkatesh is also involved in two new exciting start-up companies:

iCetana - an award-winning company that develops intelligent video surveillance software that enables operators to focus only on the one percent of events requiring attention.

TOBY Playpad - a new interactive iPad app offering a revolutionary new way to accelerate learning for children with autism.

More about PRaDA:
www.deakin.edu.au/research/stories/2012/02/09/prada-adds-depth-and-breadth

 

Grant to further research into devastating plant disease

Dean PhillipsDeakin 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

Daniel PriebbenowDeakin 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.

Push for the winning edge in competition

Final year Mechatronics Engineering students recently put their skills to the test designing and developing autonomous robots to compete in a Sumorobot Competition at Deakin University's Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus.

The competition forms part of the students' assessment. Dr Ben Horan and Dr Matthew Joordens from Deakin's School of Engineering have been running the class for the last five years.

'The competition is part of a final year Mechatronic Engineering subject which employs a design based approach to engineering education. The competition is seen by many students as the pinnacle of their degrees, and provides them with a project they can show prospective employers as a demonstration of their engineering ability,' Dr Horan explains.

'The robots need to be designed according to specific design criteria and it is up to students to use their creativity and imagination to design their robot to outwit, outmanoeuvre, and overpower other students' robots,' Dr Horan says.

'This year's robots needed to weigh less than one kilogram which is of course an important consideration for a Sumorobot which is designed to push other robots out of the competition ring.

'We are continually surprised by the imagination, creativity, and out-of-the-box thinking of our students. Just when you think you have seen all possibilities, a student will completely surprise you.'

This year's winner was Benjamin Champion.

'The secret to his robot's success was to keep his design simple, mechanically robust and to use powerful motors and a lot of wheel traction,' Dr Horan says.

'Within the School of Engineering we have long valued design-based approaches to teaching Engineering, and often hear from students how effective it can be to complement theoretical concepts and really enforce students' understanding.'

See the robots in action on Deakin's YouTube channel:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dnP8bsA-nyY&feature=youtube_gdata

 

Fellowship helps maggot research fly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Community approach to measuring traffic noise

2Loud? is a research project developed by Deakin University in partnership with the City of Boroondara. Through the project, researchers Dr Simone Leao and Dr Adam Krezel, School of Architecture and Built Environment, and Dr Kok-Leong Ong, School of Information and Business Analytics, have developed a mobile phone application called 2Loud? that allows citizens to monitor traffic noise in their environment.

'The World Health Organization has recently focused attention on guidelines for night noise in urban areas, based on significant medical evidence of the adverse impacts of exposure to excessive traffic noise on health, especially caused by sleep disturbance. This includes serious illnesses, such as hypertension, arteriosclerosis and myocardial infarction,' Dr Leao explains.

'The 2Loud? project starts from the understanding that traffic noise pollution is a very complex issue, and that a healthier environment would come from the integration of multiple actions from multiple stakeholders.

'Citizens, communities, transport agencies, local and state government, and scientists are all part of the solution for the problem.'

Dr Leao says the features of today's mobile phones have enabled them to be used as a tool for engagement.

'Numerous international reports have expressed the importance of public participation to help move cities and regions towards sustainable development,' she says.

'Several features of mobile phones make them a special and unprecedented tool for engaging participants in sensing their local environment. Ubiquitous smart-phones come with a growing set of powerful embedded sensors.'

Dr Leao says there are also demonstrated benefits in taking a participatory approach to environmental monitoring.

'Scientific literature and practice has demonstrated that participatory processes in environmental monitoring lead to important benefits such as increasing environmental democracy, scientific literacy, social capital, cost-effective provision of data, and potential improvement of environmental conditions,' she says.

'In the case of university-based research projects, like 2Loud?, it can make environmental science and expertise more accessible to the public while also making scientists more aware of local knowledge and expertise.'

The positive experience of the use of the 2Loud? application by the Community of Boroondara in 2013 sets the basis for further research. Next steps will follow three interrelated streams centred respectively on community, health, and technology.

For more information visit the 2Loud? project website: www.2loud.net.au.

 

Challenging students to discover science and engineering

Two were better than one this year when it came to Science and Engineering Challenges, with the School of Engineering hosting its ninth Geelong region event and teaming with the School of Life and Environmental Sciences to present the inaugural Warrnambool event.

The Science and Engineering Challenge is a program conducted nationally by the University of Newcastle, with participation last year reaching almost 20,000 students from more than 600 schools around Australia. It provides Year 10 students with the chance to take part in fun and practical activities aimed at igniting their interest in science, engineering and technology.

Competing in teams, students are challenged to apply their understanding of physics and engineering concepts in order to build, construct and design things that fly in the air, hover above or drive on land, use simulators, electricity, plastic, foam, balsa, rubber, tape and other items.

Once again, the Geelong Challenge was a great success. Students from 14 schools in the Geelong region and beyond competed at the Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus on Thursday 30 May and Friday 31 May, with honours going to Whitefriars College for Thursday's competition and Oberon High School for Friday's.

On Tuesday 18 June, five schools took part in the first Great South Coast Challenge at Deakin's Warrnambool Campus. On the Monday evening, an event was held at the Warrnambool City Centre to celebrate the Challenge coming to Warrnambool, with a welcome from Professor Gerry Quinn (LES).

Brauer College took out Challenge honours on the day as the winning school. Feedback from teachers from the competing schools was very positive and all indicated they would compete in next year's Challenge.

Thank you to all the Engineering, Life and Environmental Sciences, and faculty staff who were involved with the Challenges and helped make both events such a success.

See a video about the Great South Coast Challenge on the Warrnambool Standard website.

 

Nanoparticle research planting seeds for success

Pavani NadimintiWork 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: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/am303208t.

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: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11051-013-1676-4. 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

 

Project to catalogue web security threats

Prof Yang XiangProfessor Yang Xiang, School of IT, is leading a three-year project which has the primary objective of identifying and fighting Australia's most prevalent malware attacks.

The project is being done in in collaboration with Macquarie University and Trend Micro and has ARC Linkage Project funding. It will see large-scale analytics techniques used to analyse massive volumes of Trend Micro malware sensor data.

In an online interview with security website CSO, Professor Xiang said that Australia was a 'remarkably internet dependent country', so improving the security of the current Australian internet is 'fundamentally important'. He said the goal of the project is to use 'complementary knowledge and skills from both sides to work together and analyse the Web threats specifically targeting Australia'.

The article also quoted Professor Xiang as saying that while one project can't be expected to secure the 'whole Australian cyberspace', he hoped it could make significant contributions in this field.

Read the full article on the CSO website.

 

New group aims to LEAD the way for female engineering students

Ladies in Engineering At Deakin - or LEAD - is a fun networking group for Deakin University's female engineering students. The group is in its first year and runs alongside the Deakin Engineering Society (DES) group.

The idea for LEAD came from final year student Rachael Rollinson.

'I was Vice President for Professional Development in DES last year and I noticed that there were no real networking opportunities available for girls [in engineering] at Deakin... and I had the idea to do something about that,' Rachael explains.

After discussing it with others, Rachael says the idea 'just snowballed' and LEAD was born.

LEAD's aim is to 'increase opportunity through social connections and professional development, and to encourage women to get into the field of study'. The group is planning a variety of activities through the year, some just for fun - such as pizza and trivia nights - and others with a career focus, including networking with industry.

'We've been going up to the Women in Engineering Group events through Engineers Australia as a group too, helping us to network and get to know some professionals,' Rachael says.

Virginia Martin, also in her final year at Deakin, is another of the group's organisers. She says that while the group currently has a lot of senior students involved, it also has plenty to offer girls in their first and second year, especially as they're settling into university.

'It's really handy to speak to a girl who's done the same subject as you or had that lecturer or knows the best way to get that assignment done,' Virginia explains. It's a point Rachael agrees with.

'I know engineering can be quite full on at times, so it's about having someone to talk to, who has been through that,' she says.

Find out more about LEAD on the group's Facebook page - https:///www.facebook.com/groups/LEAD.Deakin or contact Rachael: rlrol@deakin.edu.au .

LEAD organisersLEAD logo

Photo: LEAD organisers: (l to r) Virginia, Rachael, Gabi and Steph.

 

LES researchers finding out what's Pozible

pozible websiteResearchers from the School of Life and Environmental Sciences are involved with five of the eight projects recently launched as part of Deakin University's Research My World initiative, in conjunction with crowdfunding site Pozible.com.

The projects provide a great snapshot of the diversity of research taking place in the school. They range from uncovering new information about endangered species in Papua New Guinea, to investigating seaweed as a food source, to mapping Victoria's ocean floor, to using maggots in the treatment of Bairnsdale Ulcer, to the impact of changing ocean salt concentration on marine invertebrates.

Under the Pozible funding scheme, members of the public have the opportunity to make tax-deductible donations to a range of unique research projects that appeal to their interests and concerns. The Deakin-Pozible project is believed to be the first time an Australian university has used crowdfunding to pursue research funding.

In launching the initiative, Deakin's Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Lee Astheimer, said crowdfunding had been successfully used to foster innovation in a number of entrepreneurial fields and the question had been asked why weren't universities trying it.

'Well now we are,' she said.

Professor Astheimer said that the Pozible experiment is consistent with Deakin's reputation as an innovator in higher education.

Use the links below to visit the Pozible site to find details and a video about each of the projects involving LES researchers:

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.

 

New engineering labs spark new opportunities

Guy LittlefairThe ability to replicate a 300 kilometre transmission line or perform research using an on-campus commercial wind turbine connected to the national electricity grid are just some of the features of two new engineering laboratories at Deakin's Geelong Waurn Ponds Campus.

'These are the latest additions to a suite of refurbished engineering laboratories and equipment that ensure facilities for engineering at Deakin are world class,' says Professor Guy Littlefair, Head of the School of Engineering. 'They are part of a number of exciting developments in engineering at Deakin, including our $55 million Centre for Advanced Design in Engineering Training (CADET) currently under design in the school.'

The Renewable Energy laboratory and Electrical laboratory will provide undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as PhD students and researchers, with exciting new opportunities, says Professor Alex Stojcevski, the school's Deputy Head.

As well as the commercial wind turbine - likely to become a campus landmark with its location on the roof of the Engineering building - a bank of twelve solar panels has also been installed as part of the new facilities. Both are connected to Australia's electricity grid, which means the power being generated can be used or sold back to the grid. An important aspect of being connected to the grid, Professor Stojcevski says, is the ability it gives researchers and students to conduct experiments and research that are not just using a local 'micro-grid', but at a 'real-world level'.

In addition to students and researchers being able to monitor in the laboratory how much power is being generated, interested passers-by will be able to see that information on screens in the corridors outside.

'The Renewable Energy lab has equipment that allows students and researchers to not only simulate computer applications of what wind turbine or solar panel or solar wind or solar thermal power generation can do, it allows them to use real equipment,' Professor Stojcevski explains.

'This means our students can replicate what a real engineer would do, such as feel the equipment, set up the equipment and so on. For example, in the lab we can replicate a 300 kilometre transmission line, so students will be able to learn to detect faults and potentially come up with mechanisms to prevent them.'

Professor Stojcevski says the new labs have also been designed to encourage interdisciplinary learning and research.

'For instance, in the Renewable Energy lab, our mechanical engineering students can study the gears and shafts and mechanical instruments within a wind turbine, while our electrical engineering students can examine the energy that's being produced, the power and energy efficiency.'

The benefits and opportunities provided by the new labs are likely to flow on to Deakin's off-campus engineering students too, with the school looking to provide remote access to equipment as well.

 

Peptides helping researchers in search for Parkinson's disease treatment

Richard WilliamsAustralian 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

wildlifeAccording 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

 

Deakin researchers on the road with Catalyst

boatThe 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.

 


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