James Cook University, Townsville, Australia

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

ARC Discovery and Linkage Grants Announced for 2011

PRESS RELEASE: Innovative Research Projects Funded
     Multiple sclerosis causes and treatments and North Queensland Indigenous artefacts collected post-1870 are some of the James Cook University research projects awarded Federal Government funding this week.
      A total of 169 Australian research projects were announced as recipients of the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) 2011 Major Grants Announcement.
      JCU will receive more than $5.3 million for projects under the ARC’s Discovery Indigenous Researchers Development, Discovery Projects and Linkage Projects schemes.
      The funding will begin in 2011 and be available for up to five years.
      Professor Alan Baxter, of James Cook University’s Comparative Genomics Centre, said the Cellular genomic approach to the pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis project would compare the levels of gene usage in two important immune cell types between patients with multiple sclerosis and people who do not have the disease.
      “It aims to identify the molecular basis for multiple sclerosis, in order to identify new diagnostic, preventative and treatment options,” Professor Baxter said.
      “Most previous work on immunity in multiple sclerosis has concentrated on the activities of T cells, which are responsible for targeting the immune attack against the myelin coating of the nerve fibres.
      “This project studies differences in a protective population of immune cells, termed NK cells, and another population responsible for damaging the myelin, called monocytes.
      “The disease appears to result from a coincidence of errors in multiple cell types, which can combine to produce devastating damage to the brain and spinal cord.”
      Associate Professor Rosita Henry will lead the Objects of possession: artefact transactions in the wet tropics of North Queensland, 1870 -2013 project.
      “This research into artefact collecting will provide Indigenous peoples, museum curators and other community members with important insights into the history of Indigenous cultures in the Wet Tropics region,” Associate Professor Henry said.
      “Our project will contribute to the development of innovative ways of presenting Indigenous peoples' connections with their cultural heritage.”
      Other JCU projects to be funded incude:
• The grammar of knowledge: a cross linguistic view of evidentials and epistemological expressions
• Climate change, larval dispersal and patterns of connectivity in coral metapopulations
• Linking social science and ecology to understand the vulnerability of coastal societies to changes in coral reef resources
• Keystone effects of Australia's top predators: dingoes, devils and biodiversity
• Impacts of habitat disruption and global change on liana tree interactions
• Conservation of tropical forests for their carbon and biodiversity values
• Global climate change and the impacts of temperature extremes on terrestrial biodiversity
• Low energy electron transport in soft condensed biological matter
• Land, language and heritage - full documentation of the Jirrbal tribe from North Queensland
Media enquiries: Caroline Kaurila, JCU Media, on 4781 4586.

Warning on New Vaccine Technology
PRESS RELEASE: A Snag for Needle-free Vaccines
     Scientists have cast doubt over the safety of needle-free vaccines, with research at James Cook University and the Centenary Institute in Sydney revealing that skin patch vaccinations can accelerate the onset of autoimmune disease in mice. The scientists have been investigating a US-developed vaccine system based on the use of a skin patch similar to that used to break nicotine addition. Just like a needle vaccination, the patch delivers a carefully controlled amount of viral or bacterial material into the body so it can build up immunity against infections. But Professor Alan Baxter from JCU's Comparative Genomics Centre and colleagues at the Centenary Institute found that the accelerant, or adjuvant, used to increase the efficacy of patch vaccines also accelerated other, ongoing destructive immune responses. In experiments performed in mice, both type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis were exacerbated by the adjuvant, Professor Baxter said. "There was no problem with the immunisation itself, since the effects on ongoing tissue damage only occurred in the presence of the additive," he said. "The adjuvant used in the patches is based on certain bacterial enzymes that have unexpected effects when applied to intact skin." This technology, termed transcutaneous immunization (TCI), was developed at Walter Reed (US) Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), is licensed exclusively to Iomai Corporation (, which is currently testing it in clinical trials. The results are reported this week in the Journal of Immunology. "Our concern is that the needle free vaccine strategy could induce disease in people at risk of these diseases who would otherwise escape sufficient tissue damage to cause overt illness. Our findings do not hold implications for people who have received conventional injected vaccines, but emphasise the importance of eternal vigilance in the introduction of new medical technologies - particularly those developed for widespread application."

CGC Announces Completion of Cellular Immunology Laboratory
     The Comparative Genomics Centre announced the completion of the Cellular Immunology Laboratory, on time and under budget. The lab was built for the arrival of Dr Heinrich Körner, who will head the new Cellular Immunology research group from early January. "I am delighted with the work," said Dr Körner. "It is marvelous to see everything coming together so well. I could not be happier." Dr Körner's research examines how the white blood cells of the body are targetted to sites of infection or tissue dammage. He has published extensively on models of multiple sclerosis and infection with leishmania and will strengthen the CGC's focus on applying lessons from evolutionary studies to solve the medical problems of today.

Miller on Cover of Biology's "Rolling Stone"
    Comparative Genomics Centre scientist Dave Miller made the cover of the biologist's version of 'Rolling Stone' when his work was featured on the December issue of Current Biology. His work characterising an expressed gene library from the coral Acropora millipora revealed that coral possess many of the genes previously thought to be characteristic of vertebrates like man. So significant are the implications of this finding that it was discussed in a Nature editorial (426: 744) and was featured on the Science Magazine web site. Carina Dennis, writing for Nature, said, "This finding means that although fly and worm models are useful for studying gene function in development and cellular processes, they may be of limited value in studies of evolution of human genes."

PRESS RELEASE: Coral and Man - Not so Distant Relatives

The earliest animals wandered around on the ancient seabed with a swag of genes common to you and I, a new study reveals.

The research by scientists at JCU and the Australian National University turns upside down many traditional assumptions about what makes vertebrates such as man unique, and what has happened at the level of the genome during animal evolution.

Researchers who analysed the genes expressed in the coral Acropora millepora discovered many of the same genes as those found in humans but which are distinctly absent from animals such as the fruit fly and nematode worm.

The findings are reported this week in the Current Biology journal.

Reader in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at JCU and co-author of the paper, Dr David Miller, said many coral genes were surprisingly like human genes, although the roles of these genes remained to be established.

Dr Miller said it had generally been assumed that the complexity of the human body relative to simpler animals such as insects, worms or corals was the result of new types of genes that arose during the evolution of vertebrates.

These conclusions were drawn after studies of the fruit fly and nematode worm revealed both these creatures lacked many types of genes found in humans, he said.

"The major surprise from the project is that the coral genome contains many genes previously known only from vertebrates," Dr Miller said.

"The existence of the genes in a coral indicates that rather than having evolved in vertebrates, many genes previously thought to be vertebrate-specific in fact have much older origins and have simply been lost from organisms like the fly and nematode worm  kicked out as these invertebrate lineages evolved," he said.

"That such a simple animal should contain many genes associated with complex functions in mammals is counterintuitive.

"A major challenge now is to explore the likely roles of these coral genes in order to better understand which aspects of gene function are common between corals, some of the simplest of living animals, and humans, one of the most complex." 

Member of Scottish Parliament Praises Comparative Genomics Centre
    The August  1st, 2003 edition of the Scottish newspaper, the Banffshire Journal, today reported praise for the Comparative Genomics Centre by Member of Scottish Parliament for Banff and Buchan, Stewart Stevenson. "The relatively young medical faculty at James Cook University can offer the facilties and support required for medical research," he said. Querying Scotland's record in recruiting young medical researchers, Mr Stevenson continued, "Here there is not the money to fund [this kind of] research. Far less the cash to build a new team with a new laboratory... In Australia, the committment to health care is greater in practice than in Scotland." 

Queensland Government links QIMR to Comparative Genomics Centre with Very Fast Train
    On 11th June 2003, the Queensland Government launched the "tilt train" service linking the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane to the Comparative Genomics Centre in Townsville. Based on a European design but built in Queensland, the train uses a hydraulically controlled tilting mechanism to reduce torque on the outer rail when cornering, allowing a maximum operating speed of 160km/h. The new service will reduce the train travelling times between the two medical research centres by two thirds. "This will be a great boon to the State", said the premier, Peter Beattie, "I have wanted to link these two great institutions for many years." State member for Mundingburra agreed, "I've waited a long time for this day." A passing gentleman in a rather smart looking anorak said, "I loved the movie - it was one of my favourites."

Corbett Robotics' First CAS-3800 DNA Extractor for Comparative Genomics Centre
    On 13th May 2003, the Comparative Genomics Centre took delivery of Corbett Robotics' first CAS-3800 DNA extractor to be shipped. Capable of extracting DNA from 96 samples in under an hour, the CAS-3800 has 12 standard plate stations and one heated magnetic platform. Liquid is transferred between stations by an eight cylinder multipipetter on a linear tracked robotic arm. 
    The Comparative Genomics Centre is collaborating with Corbett Robotics in the customisation of the controlling software to produce a range of novel applications for the robot. 
  The CAS-3800 will complement the service provided by the Centre's CAS-1200, a single cylinder liquid handling system, which is used for high precision quantitation of gene expression.


Inaugural CGC Summer Studentships Awarded
    The Comparative Genomics Centre recently awarded Research Studentships to four promising young undergraduate students to undertake hands-on genetic research over the summer vacation period. The successful applicatants received instruction in the latest recombinant DNA and genetics techniques, receiving a stipend of $200 per week for a full-time commitment of between 6 and 10 weeks over the summer break.
    Sally Hunter performed a preliminary characterization of DDM genes with Nikki Hislop and David Miller. Brent Knack performed a study of TTC4 / Dpit47 tumour suppressor genes with Nikki Hislop and David Miller. Ursula Tems worked on Drad21, a Drosophila gene involved in chromosome segregation, with Rebecca Keall and Bill Warren. Julie Webster worked on the isolation of an NBS mutant in Drosophila with Rachael Rutkowski and Bill Warren.
    Applications for the 2003 CGC Vacation Studentships will be announced later in the year and will close in late October. Contact Bill Warren for further details.

Warren Wins Major US Fellowship
   On January 27th 2003, Dr Jennifer Howse, President of the March Of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, announced the award of a Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar Reseearch Award to the Comparative Genomics Centre's Dr. William Warren. This award will provide AUS$250,000 (US$150,000) over two years to support Dr. Warren's research into "Cohesin function and Regulation in Drosophila".
    Dr. Warren's work involves investigating the basic biology of chromosomes and how they get equally distributed during cell division. Money provided by the March of Dimes Foundation will contribute towards a greater understanding of the molecular details of this highly regulated process. Investigations such as those being conducted by Dr. Warren at the Comparative Genomics Centre are aimed at improving our chances of developing more sophisticated screening and prevention techniques for birth defects caused by chromosome abnormalities.

Federal Government Awards Grant for Innovative Genetics Teaching Program
    On November 5, 2002, the Australian Federal Government awarded James Cook University a $480,000 grant to develop an innovative teaching program in comparative genomics. The new program will involve hands-on and computer-based training in the genomics of a range of genetic model organisms, providing an opportunity for students to gain critical experience emerging genetic technologies. "Students who come through these programs will have a huge advantage in that they will be exposed to world-leading instruction and educational tools", Federal Member for Herbert, Peter Lindsay, said. The Dean of Health and Molecular Sciences, Prof Ian Wronski agreed, "This will have an important influence on research at the James Cook University with major implications for the regional economy as well." 

Miller Wins Prestigious European Study Grant
    On 31st October, Commonwealth minister for Science, Peter McGauran announced that Dr David Miller, head of the Coral Genomics Group at the Comparative Genomics Centre in Townsville, had been awarded one of 30 study grants to undertake collaborative research in Europe through the Innovation Access Programme. Miller will study the conservation of function of key homeobox genes in nervous system development using microarray and transgenic technology in Switzerland. "These projects will stimulate Australia’s involvement in leading edge science and research," said McGauran. "They will increase Australian access to global research and technologies and bring demonstrated benefits to Australian researchers and organisations."

James Cook University Announces Construction of Immunogenetics Research Facility
    On August 22, 2002, the James Cook University announced Abigroup Australia as the successful tenderers for the construction of an Immunogenetics Research Facility at the Comparative Genomics Centre, James Cook University. To be built on the University's Douglas campus in Townsville, the facility will provide state-of-the-art housing for the Centre's research into the genetic and environmental risk factors for a range of diseases, including childhood diabetes, gastritis and lupus. "Together with the recent completion of the Drosophila Genome Research Laboratory, the Immunogenetics Research Facility will put the Comparative Genomics Centre at the forefront of comparitive genomics in Australia", Professor Baxter said.

Launch of Access Grid
    On April 30, 2002, The Comparative Genomics Centre helped launch the second Australian Access Grid centre, which is located at James Cook University (JCU).
    The Access Grid is an integrated environment that supports group-to-group communication using high-speed networks over the Internet. It provides high-quality audio and real-time video that allow groups at multiple sites to interact simultaneously and share data and scientific instruments. 
    Meeting participants (both local and distant) appear in windows projected onto a large screen. The current display resolution at VisLab is 3840 x 1024 pixels. Additionally, data windows from participants' laptop computers can be intergrated into the meeting (eg. display images, movies, presentations, spreadsheets). 
    Professor Alan Baxter, Comparative Genetics Centre, Professor Leonard Lindoy, Inorganic Chemistry (University of Sydney) and George McLaughlin, CEO AARNet using the Access Grid at VisLab (Sydney) participated in a session with Professor Norman Palmer, PVC Research and International (JCU), Dr Ian Atkinson, Deputy Director QPSF (JCU), Professor Bernard Pailthorpe, Director of Vislab (University of Sydney), Ms Jayne Seebeck, Department of Innovation and Information Economy (DIIE) and the Honourable Paul Lucas MP, Queensland Minister for Innovation and Information Economy.


Comparative Genomics Centre, James Cook University, Key words: 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.