ANNUAL REPORT 2003 - 2004

Comparative Genomics Centre,
Molecular Sciences Bldg 21, James Cook University,
Townsville, 4811, Queensland, Australia
Telephone: 61-7-4781 6265 Fax:  61-7-4781 6078

The Comparative Genomics Centre (CGC) is a medical research centre founded in April 2003 by the School of Pharmacy and Molecular Sciences in association with the School of Medicine, at the James Cook University (JCU). After one year of operation, the CGC accommodates sixteen postgraduate students, seven postdoctoral fellows and six research assistants. It has an annual peer reviewed grant income in excess of $1.2 M from grants awarded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, the Australian Research Council, the March of Dimes Foundation, the AlzheimerÝs Research Initiative, Transtech Pharma, Alteon and the JCU intramural funding scheme.

The overall aim of the Centre is to use a variety of genetic models, including staghorn coral, fruit fly and mice, to study human disease from an evolutionary perspective. Disorders studied include birth defects, cancer, dementia, infectious diseases and autoimmunity. Housed in state-of-the-art custom built laboratories, the CGC offers a unique opportunity to research comparative genomics, molecular genetics, immunogenetics and immunology in a beautiful tropical environment adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef.

The CGC houses six research groups, each of which studies novel aspects of human health and disease. The Medical Genomics Group is working to determine the causes of autoimmune diseases using both cellular and genetic techniques. Current projects study: the genetics of autoimmune diabetes, gastritis and lupus in mice; the effects of mycobacteria on autoimmune diseases; and the role of immunoregulatory NKT cells in childhood diabetes. The Coral Genomics Group is studying a local Acropora  (staghorn coral) as a model system, in order to investigate issues central to the evolution of developmental mechanisms. The Drosophila Genetics Group's main focus is to investigate human disease using the model organism Drosophila melanogaster (vinegar fly). As Drosophila share a many key genes regulating cell division in man, they can provide important insights into disorders of chromosome segregation and cell cycle regulation. The Sociogenomics Group studies social insects, such as bees, ants and wasps, to model the genetics of social behaviours like altruism. The Neurobiology Group studies cell-based models of dementia and central nervous system inflammation, in order to identify compounds that can halt the progress of these diseases. The Cellular Immunology Group studies infections and inflammatory diseases in mice bearing targeted deletions of key immunological genes, in order to dissect the critical pathways involved in the initiation and resolution of immune responses.

The six research groups of the CGC have a number of collaborative research programs - and this is where the real strength of the Centre lies. For example, we are currently studying a coral gene with significant homology to plant defensins, which is highly conserved in humans. Results to date are consistent with this gene playing an important role in resistance to infection in man.


Medical Genomics Research Group, Autoimmunity Research Group, Comparative Genomics Centre,  Key words: Autoimmune diabetes, gene, genome, allele, locus, inherited, disease, Type 1 diabetes mellitus, childhood diabetes, lupus, systemic lupus erythematosus, hemolytic anaemia, hemolytic anemia, Coombs' test, antinuclear antibodies, renal failure, glomerulonephritis, gastritis, type A gastritis, pernicious anemia, immunology, popular science, biology.