ANNUAL REPORT 2006 - 2007

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 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 School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences. After its fourth year of operation, the CGC consists of 10 research laboratories. Labs joining the Centre in the last year were the Psychogenetics Group, headed by Dr Bernhard Baune, The Symbiosis Group, headed by Dr Bill Leggat, and the Supramolecular and Synthetic Biology Group, headed by Patrick Shaeffer. In addition Prof James Burnell’s Biotechnology Group, which was previously affiliated with the Centre, became a full member laboratory.

The CGC now accommodates 41 postgraduate students (up from 24 in 2005), eleven postdoctoral fellows (up from six) and four research assistants. Over the last fifteen months, the CGC has had 68 scientific manuscripts published or accepted for publication in internationally recognised scientific journals (up from 39). It currently has an annual income in excess of $2.0 M from peer-reviewed grants (up from $1.7 M) awarded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), the Australian Research Council, Queensland Cancer Fund, Alzheimer’s Australia, the Wicking Foundation, Astra Zenica Gronova Research Inc and the JCU intramural funding schemes.

To date, members of the Centre have trained nearly 100 staff and students in advanced genetic and genomic techniques and the application of flow cytometry. We are particularly grateful for the efforts of Phillip Fromm and Margaret Jordan in this regard. A significant advantage of the Centre operating across multiple Faculties is its ability to attract substantial funding for common items of infrastructure. LIEF applications for large items of equipment are generally supported by all members of the CGC, and as a result, the group is well resourced. Equipment purchased through collaborative applications include a 96 capillary MegaBACE 1000 DNA Analysis System, a Dako CyAn 11-paramater flow cytometer and a Affymetrix GeneChip system comprising hybridisation oven, fluidics station and GeneChip Scanner 3000 7G.

At foundation, the overall aim of the CGC was to use a variety of genetic models, including staghorn coral, fruit fly and mice, to study human disease from an evolutionary perspective. As the Centre has grown, it has become a focus of resources and expertise in genetics for the University and the region. The member laboratories now cover a much broader range of applications of genetics and genomics, including the science of coral reef management and biotechnological applications.

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 animal genomes and developmental mechanisms, and the Symbiosis Group examines the co-dependence of corals and zooxanthellae, which are dinoflagellate algae that live symbiotically in the gastrodermis of reef-building corals. Both laboratories are members of the world leading ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. 

Biotechnology Group clones and expresses biological products of potential utility and is developing genetic recombinant plant crops with improved disease resistance and greater yields. The Supramolecular and Synthetic Biology Group (SSBG) focus is to study protein-ligand interactions and in particular Protein-DNA interactions. The discovery and characterization of novel protein interactions can lead to the production of new molecular tools with applications in the field of bio- and nanotechnology (e.g. molecular diagnostics, drug discovery, functional genomics and proteomics). The SSBG is currently developing innovative methods for the discovery, characterization and quantification of such interactions as well as novel ultrasensitive diagnostics. The research undertaken in the SSBG is multidisciplinary and spans across the disciplines of Biology, Biochemistry and Chemistry.

The Psychogenetics and Neurobiology Groups both study molecular aspects of neurological disease; 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, while the Psychogenetics Group studies the genetic control of inflammatory processes involved in the aetiology of psychiatric problems, such as depression.

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 Medical Genomics Group and the Cellular Immunology Group both study aspects of immune function. The Medical Genomics Group is working to determine the genetic 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 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.


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