ANNUAL REPORT 2005 - 2006

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). Major contributions are also made by the School of Tropical Biology and the Veterinary and School of Biomedical Sciences. After its third year of operation, the CGC consists of 6 research laboratories accommodating 24 postgraduate students, six postdoctoral fellows and four research assistants. Over the last twelve months, the CGC has had 39 scientific manuscripts published or accepted for publication in internationally recognised scientific journals. It currently has an annual income in excess of $1.7 M from peer-reviewed grants awarded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Australian Research Council, CSIRO, Queensland Cancer Fund, the Alzheimer’s Research Initiative, MS Society, Transtech Pharma, Eurochem, Alteon, Nutrfur and the JCU intramural funding schemes.

The HDR students of the Centre have performed well in national and international competition. Grant Stuchbury of the Neurobiology Group was awarded an ANZ Ph.D. scholarship, Zoe Richards of the Coral Genomics Group was awarded an International Reef Society of Reef Studies Fellowship and a Queensland Smart State Scholarship, and Margaret Jordan of the Medical Genomics Group won the Science New Investigator Award at the ThymOz T Cell Development Workshop and an international travelling bursary from the Australasian Society for Immunology. Alejandro Reyes from the Coral Genomics Group received a Laboratory Interchange Award from the ARC/NHMRC funded Research Network in Genes and Environment in Development to spend some time working at the Australian National University.

In a major strategic initiative, several of the member laboratories of the CGC spearheaded an intramural application to the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research, Prof Norman Palmer, to establish a Medical Genetics Research Advancement Program. The program, which commenced funding in 2006, aims to develop key techniques, expertise and experience in the collection, production and analysis of data revealing genetic risk factors for human diseases. The program funds four postdoctoral research fellows and two Ph.D. students for three years,. Drs Monsur Kazi, Anja Schweizer and Scott Page have already commenced work in their respective host laboratories.

The Centre has also been very successful in attracting equipment funding to further expand the excellent facilities available. The Federal Department of Education, Science and Training provided $270,000 to purchase a state-of-the-art Affymetrix GeneChip system, including a fluidics station and scanner, to complement existing equipment within the Genetic Analysis Facility. The CGC's GeneChip Scanner 3000 7G scans high density microarrays, enabling new applications for genotyping with up to 500,000 SNPs, tiling arrays for transcription, and all-exon arrays for whole-genome analysis. Early this year, the CGC also acquired a nine-colour flow cytometric analysis machine, supported by a $150,000 grant from the Australian Research Council. The Dako Cyan flow cytometer is equipped with three lasers, allowsing excitation at wavelengths of 488 nm, 635 nm and 405 nm. It features a high signal strength solid optical flow cell, full interlaser compensation and analysis rates of up to 50,000 events per second.
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 semi-independent 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 (fruit fly). As Drosophila share 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.


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.