[ASC-media] Media Release: Crucial Organisms Neglected in Research Support

Australasian Science science at control.com.au
Wed Dec 19 23:39:37 CET 2007

Crucial Organisms Neglected in Research Support

Australia has neglected research using model organisms other than mammals
even though they have had an enormous impact on biomedicine internationally,
according to analysis of funding trends by Prof Paul Fisher. A leading
microbiologist at La Trobe University, Fisher recently won the 2007
Australasian Science Prize for his work on mitochondrial disease using the
slime mould as a model organism.

Writing in the January/February edition of Australasian Science magazine,
published tomorrow, Fisher explains why research on simple organisms
requires better support. ³The cells of simple creatures like yeast, slime
moulds, worms, flies, fish or frogs work similarly to our own,² he says,
³but it is easier to conduct definitive experiments with them. In fact, most
of what we know about how our cells work was not elucidated in our cells but
by using a suitable model organism.²

In six of the past 8 years, Nobel Prizes for Physiology or Medicine have
been awarded to researchers working on model organisms. Four of those 6
years featured non-mammalian models.

The two dominant mammalian models used in research are the mouse and rat,
but the USA National Institutes of Health (NIH) recognises nine
non-mammalian models for their importance in biomedical research. Fisher
says: ³Only 1.25% of Australian scientific papers mention any of them in
their title, abstract or key words, ahead only of Italy and South Korea
among the top 10 science nations. The two top science nations (the USA and
UK) devote nearly twice as much of their scientific output as we do to
non-mammalian biomedical models. Compared with our competitors and
international best practice, we fall well short of the mark.

³The Australian effort in this area of biomedical research is weak because
of funding neglect. Over the past 6 years the National Health and Medical
Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC) have
committed only 0.34% of their combined research project funds to any of the
nine NIH recognised models ­ not even one in 400 funded projects.²

Fisher describes this as ³intrinsic structural bias² and urges ³a separate
funding category for biomedical research on non-mammalian models. Australian
scientists in this area currently produce 1.25% of our scientific output
from only 0.34% of research funding. We shouldŠ target 1% of the NHMRC and
ARC budgets to non-mammalian model organismsŠ Australia cannot afford to
allow this type of research to languish.²

Summaries and quotations of selected passages for reporting or review are
permissible provided AUSTRALASIAN SCIENCE MAGAZINE is credited as the source
of this story.
Professor Fisher on (03) 9479 2229 or (0437) 568 771

For permission to reproduce this article (partially or completely) call the
Editor, Guy Nolch, on (03) 9500 0015 or 0417 324 394, or Senior
Correspondent, Peter Pockley, on (02) 9660 6363. A photo of Prof Fisher is

Guy Nolch
Editor, Australasian Science
Box 2155 Wattletree Rd PO
VIC 3145 Australia
Phone 61-3-9500 0015
Fax 61-3-9500 0255
Web australasianscience.com.au 

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