Mail Address: Comparative Genomics Centre,
Molecular Sciences Bldg 21, James Cook University,
Townsville, 4811, Queensland, Australia
Telephone: 61-7-4781 5684 Fax:  61-7-4781 6078



One of the main research foci of the CGC Biotechnology Group is the study of animal venoms. Our interest in animal venoms is targeted towards elucidating the components of snake and jellyfish venoms and comparing the proteins present in animal venoms. In addition we are actively involved in in vivo expression of the venomous proteins to eliminate the need to continually collect animal venoms. Importantly, the expression of individual venom proteins eliminates the interaction of separate venom components in whole venom.

Comparison and characterisation of snake venom proteins
        This study was initiated by Ms. Ronelle Welton (PhD student) almost four years ago with a comparative study of three taipan species - the Australian coastal taipan, the Australian Inland taipan and the Papuan taipan. Part of this study included the biochemical and molecular study of the proteins expressed in the venom glands of an Australian coastal taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus scutellatus). Following the construction of a cDNA expression library using a venom gland the library a collection of clones were sequenced and the nucleotide sequences of a wide range of venom proteins determined. Current research involves the expression of a variety of these clones and characterisation of the properties of these expressed proteins.

        Participants: Special Topics in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology students

Characterisation of jellyfish venom proteins
Characterisation of protein components of box jellyfish   (Chironex fleckeri)  venom
        This project involves the characterisation of proteins contained within the nematocysts (organelles responsible for the potentially fatal sting of the box jellyfish). This involves both a proteomic as well as a molecular biology approach. A cDNA expression library has been constructed and clones are currently being isolated and characterised.

        Participants: Ms Diane Brinkman (PhD student - Diane was awarded a James Cook University Prestige PhD scholarship in 2005.)

Characterisation of protein components of Irukandji jellyfish venom
        The Irukandji jellyfish are a group of jellyfish that are characterised by are characterised by the symptoms caused when they sting humans. This study is part of a wider study coordinated by the Reef CRC (Dr. David Williams). Two deaths have been reported in the Whitsunday region (Central Queensland coastal region) as a result of stings inflicted by Irukandji jellyfish. This study is designed to identify venom proteins and to express venom proteins in vitro for further study and the development of antibodies for use in identification of jellyfish species and their possible use in the development of an antivenom. Since one of the jellyfish species identified as causing Irukandji symptoms (Carukia barnesi) (is both small and difficult to collect we are attempting to clone and express venom proteins for the use by other research groups in the study of these venom proteins (Victorian School of Pharmacy- Dr.Ken Winkel). We are indebted to the Australian Surf Life Saving Organisation for the collection of specimens as well as The Australian Institute of Marine Sciences for the molecular identification of individual species (Dr. Madeleine van Oppen _ Australian Institute of Marine Sciences).

        Participants: Ms Griselda Avila Soria (PhD student)

Characterisation of protein components of lion's mane jellyfish  (Cyanea capillata)  venom
        Following a "plague" of lion's mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata) in marine waters surrounding Townsville in early 2005 jellyfish specimens were collected and a program to study the venom proteins of this species initiated to provide data that could be used in a comparative study of jellyfish venom proteins.

        Participants: Ms. Narelle Nolan (Honours student)

Characterisation and control of expression of maize carbonic anhydrase
        Molecular biology studies have identified three isozymes of carbonic anhydrase in maize with each isozyme containing one, two or three repeat sequences. In contrast protein studies (Western hybridization) have identified four CA isozymes (Ludwig and Burnell, 1995). A single gene sequence has been sequenced (unpublished results). This study is designed to resolve the expression of CA isozymes in maize leaves. It also appears that the presence of three (or four) CA isozymes is characteristic of NADP-malic enzyme C4 plants (eg., sorghum and sugar cane).

Participants: Ms. Ursula Tems (PhD student)

Cloning and expression of saxiphilin from Bufo marinus (cane toad)
        Saxiphilin is a protein identified in a wide variety of organisms that specifically binds saxitoxin, a compound synthesised by a range of algal species. Saxitoxin is accumulated by filter feeding shellfish (oysters) which, in turn, causes paralytic shellfish poisoning in humans. Saxiphilin has been characterised in the African bullfrog (Rana catasbeana) and its activity has been detected in cane toads. Due to the high degree of similarity between the amino acid sequence of frog saxiphilin and published sequences of transferrin this study is designed to compare the protein sequences of saxiphilin and transferrin in the Queensland cane toad to allow comparison of the two proteins isolated from a single organism.

Participants: Ms. Rachel Walsh (Honours student)

Development of novel pharmaceuticals from marine organisms.
        In a collaborative project between James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences (Townsville) a rapid throughput screening assay developed in house is being used to screen a collection of marine organism extracts to identify extracts containing specific enzyme inhibitors. These inhibitors will be isolated and identified for use in inhibitor trials of a variety of pathogenic organisms including Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Mycobacterium leprae, Trypanosomonas brucei, Giardia intestinalis and Entamoeba histolytica.

Participants: Jim Burnell in collaboration with Dr. Lyndon Llewellyn (Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, Townsville)    

Group Head: Graduate Students: Undergraduate Students:


Students interested in undertaking a PhD or Masters project in the Biotechnology Group should contact Jim Burnell to discuss projects of mutual interest. Most higher degrees students would be expected to be eligible for a scholarship through the Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) scheme, the James Cook University Postgraduate Research Scholarship or an equivalent national or international scholarship.

The Australian Postgraduate Award (APA) and James Cook University Postgraduate Research Scholarship (JCUPRS) are open to applicants with, or who expect to hold, a first class honours degree or equivalent by the end of the year and who wish to undertake full-time research Masters or PhD program. In 2010 the stipends for an APA were $22,500 pa (full time) or $12,176 (part-time). APA applicants must be Australian citizens or have been granted permanent resident status and lived in Australia continuously for 12 months prior to receiving the award; Information and application forms can be obtained from the Graduate Research School.  Closing Date: 31 October of each year.

Students who have completed their undergraduate training in a BSc, BBiomedSc, BMedlabSc or equivalent program and are interested in participating in the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Honours Program are encouraged to contact Jim Burnell for a description of currently available projects. Honours studies require a full-time commitment for one year (two semesters) and can start in either February or August.

There are two main opportunities for undergraduates to participate in the ongoing research of the Biotchnology Group.

Students enrolled in BC3203 (Special Topics in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology - second semester) could ask that they undertake their research project in Prof. Burnell's laboratory. Students electing to complete their laboratory component of BC3203 in Prof. Burnell's laboratory are encouraged to undertake projects that expose them to both molecular biology and biochemistry; ie., "cloning and proteins".

Students can apply for a Comparative Genomics Centre Vacation Scholar Award. The successful applicants receive instruction in the latest genetic and immunological techniques, receiving a stipend of $200 per week for a full-time commitment of between 6 and 10 weeks over the summer break. Applications for the CGC Vacation Studentships are announced in September each year and close in late October. Contact Jim Burnell for further details.

 More Recent publications..


  Comparative Genomics Centre, Center, James Cook University, Key words: Coral, Genetics, gene, genome, DNA, linkage, Autoimmune diabetes, Type 1 diabetes mellitus, childhood diabetes, lupus, systemic lupus erythematosus, haemolytic anaemia, hemolytic anemia, Coombs' test, antinuclear antibodies, renal failure, glomerulonephritis, gastritis, type A gastritis, pernicious anemia.