Bio21 researchers funded for discovery in 2020

Dear members of the Bio21 community,

ARC Discovery Projects and Early Career Researcher grant outcomes have been announced by the Minister for Education Dan Tehan today:

Minister for Education Dan Tehan today announced almost $285 million in funding for 660 new research collaborations to start next year.

"Our Government is investing in high-quality research and the future of Australian research being carried out in our universities," Mr Tehan said. "The research done by our universities can lead to the development of new products and innovations that drive job growth, business opportunities and productivity gains.

"This investment will help develop solutions to problems in areas such as health, infrastructure, economics and the environment. "Our Government is strategically investing in partnerships between universities, industry and government to drive the commercialisation of research."

Read the official announcement here

It is with great pleasure to see the names of Bio21 researchers amongst the grant recipients.

Congratulations to Guy Jameson, Paul Donnelly, Mark Rizzacasa, Uta Wille and Eric Reynolds. I am also one of the fortunate recipients of the ARC Discovery Project grants.

Congratulations also to David Ascher on being offered an Early Career Researcher grant.

This year, all projects have had to include a ‘National Interest Statement,’ which is interesting to read and a science communication challenge to formulate!

"The public accountability of these projects have been improved by the application of the national interest test which uses plain English to explain the value of research to the country," Mr Tehan said.

Projects that received funding included research on: the role of ferritin in iron metabolism; design of metal-containing molecules as tracers for molecular imaging; chemical synthesis of bioactive natural products; a novel bacterial secretion system; improving nitrogen fertiliser efficiency and unravelling the molecular puzzle of how bacterial toxins drill holes into cells.

It is a credit to the individuals and teams who have been successful under very competitive conditions. We are also very conscious that many great applications have missed out this year and hope with a bit of fine tuning that these applications will find success in 2020.

Please scroll down for the more detailed description of the projects funded.



Discovery Projects 2020 Round 1

Jameson, A/Prof Guy N

This project aims to understand the mechanism and function of the protein nanocage, ferritin, which stores iron in the body ready for use on demand. Iron is an essential element, vital for wellbeing. To understand iron we need to understand ferritin. Despite being widely studied, how ferritin actually works remains unclear. This project aims to use an interdisciplinary approach combining protein biochemistry, spectroscopy, genetics and whole organism studies. It will develop new techniques to enable the physiological role of iron to be explored. Outcomes of this innovative platform are anticipated to include in-depth understanding of how ferritin functions to unravel its fundamental role in iron storage and release ready for re-use.

National Interest Test Statement

Correct iron homeostasis is vital for health and well-being. This project will generate a complete and accurate model of iron flux into and out of the iron storage protein ferritin in a whole organism. This information is the basis for developing a complete understanding of iron physiology. The knowledge gained may, in the longer term, identify new strategies to alleviate iron deficiency or toxicity in a targeted way. To achieve this aim, new tools and technologies will be developed to allow us to examine iron function within ferritin and a new generation of multidisciplinary talent will be trained ensuring that Australian researchers remain leaders in the field of iron metabolism.

Donnelly, Prof Paul S

This project aims to make fundamental advances in inorganic chemistry, coordination chemistry and bioinorganic chemistry by preparing new metal-containing molecules based on specifically designed tetrapyrrole ligands. Innovative synthetic methods will be developed to enable systematic chemical modifications to explore the chemical and biological properties of the metal complexes. The potential of the new molecules to be of use as tracers for molecular imaging will be investigated. An expected outcome of this research will be an increased understanding of how chemical properties dictate the biological activity of metal complexes informing the potential long-term translation of this chemistry to new molecular diagnostics and therapeutics.

National Interest Test Statement

This research aims to make fundamental advances in the chemical sciences by making new designer molecules. High quality research will underpin internationally competitive discoveries at the forefront of bioinorganic chemistry. The new molecules and knowledge developed will have the long-term potential to improve modern society through technological breakthroughs in molecular agents capable of providing improved diagnosis and therapy. An excellent multi-disciplinary research environment will provide high quality training to the next generation of Science Technology Engineering and Maths (STEM) specialist scientists that are necessary to drive Australia's emerging biotechnology and biomedical sectors.

Rizzacasa, Prof Mark A

This proposal aims to investigate the chemical synthesis of a number of structurally different natural product target molecules by strategies involving the use of either three or four membered ring-strained compounds to afford key synthetic intermediates in an efficient manner. The key aim of this research is to provide more efficient routes to complex natural products and analogues. The research strives to be at the forefront of modern synthetic organic chemistry and aims to contribute to the Science of complex molecule synthesis.

National Interest Test Statement

This project aims to achieve the total chemical synthesis of a number of bioactive natural products with diverse structures. Most significantly, this challenging research should deliver methods for the production of molecules that have applications in both basic and applied research. This research will expand Australia's knowledge base and support the high-quality education and training of students to increase Australia's research capability.

Reynolds, Prof Eric C

The Type IX Secretion System present in diverse bacteria of veterinary, agricultural, environmental and industrial importance enables effector proteins to be secreted and attached to the cell surface where they contribute to disease pathogenesis or degrade biopolymers of commercial interest. This project aims to determine the structure and assembly mechanism of this complex secretion nanomachine comprising 15 different proteins using state of the art microscopy. Knowledge of the structure will greatly enhance our understanding of secretion mechanisms and our ability to both inhibit the system to treat disease in animals or manipulate the system for industrial applications providing future economic and environmental benefits to our nation.

National Interest Test Statement

Our research will result in the structural characterisation of a novel bacterial secretion system that is present in a variety of important bacteria. This will lead to the development of new therapies (antibiotics/vaccine) for animal pathogens and provide important knowledge to allow manipulation of this secretion system in environmentally important bacteria for critical industrial applications. Overall the work will provide future economic, enviromental and productivity benefits for Australia.

Wille, Prof Uta

This project will use synthetic organic chemistry, biochemistry, root and rhizosphere biology and rhizosphere modelling to establish detailed mechanistic knowledge of the nitrogen (N) transport and uptake processes at the soil-root interface to develop new, efficient urease and nitrification inhibitors for reliable provision of N to the plant/root system. The reduction of excessive N fertilisation has significant environmental benefits by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. This project will lead to a breakthrough for the triple challenge of food security, environmental degradation and climate change, while improving plant productivity and increasing the profitability of agriculture through lower fertiliser costs.

National Interest Test Statement

Agriculture plays a vital role in Australia, contributing to its environmental, economic and social sustainability, but is challenged by an increasing demand for food for a rapidly growing population. A key to ensure food security is to increase crop production through the use of fertilisers. The total cost of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser for Australia’s grains industry is over AUD 1 billion per year. Unfortunately, the efficiency of nitrogen use in the agricultural industry is low, with about 50% of the applied nitrogen escaping from the production system, amounting to a direct financial loss of ca. AUD 500 million each year. Much of the excess nitrogen fertiliser flows into waterways and is released to the atmosphere, resulting in groundwater pollution, eutrophication and increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions. This proposal will provide new strategies to enhance nitrogen fertiliser efficiency in agriculture by improving nitrogen uptake efficiency by plants and reducing nitrogen loss from soils, which will have significant economic and environmental benefits for the Australian agricultural industry.

Parker, Prof Michael W

Animals, plants, fungi and bacteria all use pore-forming proteins as cell-killing weapons of mass destruction. Despite their lethal nature and their roles in infection and immunity, how these proteins work remains enigmatic. This project aims to unravel missing molecular details of how a major superfamily of such proteins is able to drill holes in cell membranes. The outcomes could reveal novel mechanisms general to these proteins and provide fundamental insights in understanding vital physiological processes across all kingdoms of life. Ultimately, this knowledge may guide the design of artificial protein pores that are selective for specific molecules with applications such as measuring metal ions, sugars, pesticides or pollutants.

National Interest Test Statement

This project will provide insights into fundamental biology of bacteria including many with known importance in agriculture, biotechnology and human and animal disease. This could lead to the development of novel approaches in the biotechnology industry for the control of both bacterial and insect pests, as insects such as mosquitoes host some of these bacteria.The project also has the potential to lead to development of engineered proteins with great importance in the biotechnology industry, placing Australian science at the forefront of an emerging technology. This may have significant impact on the Australian economy through spin-off companies and licensing agreements. For example, Oxford Nanopore, a UK company that specialises in applications of engineered pores, has been valued at 1.5 billion pounds.

Discovery Early Career Researcher Award 2020 Round 1

David Ascher
Structure guided mapping of protein interactions and their perturbation. Protein interactions are central to most biological processes, and significant effort has been devoted to trying to unravel these complicated networks. This project aims to develop new approaches to better understand these interactions, and the consequences of their perturbation. The main expected contributions will be: (i) methods to identify likely protein interaction sites using population conservation; (ii) computational approaches to assess the effects of any type of mutation on the interaction; and (iii) an understanding of how disruption of a specific interaction can affect the complicated biological network within a cell.