[ASC-media] As complex as a worm...and other stories

Niall Byrne niall at scienceinpublic.com.au
Thu Apr 17 02:50:03 CEST 2008

Why are we so complicated?

Some current science stories that might interest you. 


You and I have about the same number of genes as a worm. It turns out
that genes aren't everything. Most-98.5%-of our DNA is so-called junk.
Now we know that this 'junk' guides our development - controlling when
our genes are read and turned into proteins. 


That's one of the most dramatic findings of genome science in the last
decade. Tomorrow, Thursday, geneticists from across Australia are
meeting to celebrate ten years of Australia's national genome facility
and to consider what's to come. I've attached a brief outline below.
More details will be online in the morning. 


Also, in this note: 


*         New Zealand Trade and Enterprise offers up to $4.5 million for
trans-Tasman biotech partnerships. 


*         Perth: The "WHO's public health guru" is Perth talking about
Dilemmas in Public Health: From Smallpox Eradication to SARS, Avian
Influenza and Polio Eradication. Dr David Heymann is the WHO's Assistant
Director-General for Health Security and Environment.


*         And some alerts from our colleagues at the Australian Science
Media Centre. 


For more information give me a call on 0417 131 977 or email me -
niall at scienceinpublic.com.au <mailto:niall at scienceinpublic.com.au>  



Genetics of climate change; new vaccines; how plants flower; the
personal genome and other stories from the gene revolution

Embargo 8 am Thursday, 17 April 2008

Fifty-five years after Watson and Crick discovered DNA's double helix
and ten years after Australia's national genome facility opened, how are
genetics and genomics changing our lives? What will the next decade


Australia's leading genome scientists are meeting in Melbourne today to
discuss the first ten years of the Australian Genome Research Facility
(AGRF) and to speculate on what the next ten years of genome science
will bring.


Ten years ago a small worm had its genome sequenced. The human genome
was still billions of dollars away. Today's gene sequencing robots can
map three human genomes a week. The next generation will be ten times
faster. The thousand dollar human genome is on the horizon. 


And now over four hundred animals, plants and fungi have had their
genome mapped. 


"We have about as many genes as a worm. It turns out that conventional
genes aren't everything," says John Mattick, founding director of the


"That was the biggest surprise of the human genome project. We only have
about 20,000 genes coding for proteins, the building blocks of life.
That's not much more than that of a simple nematode worm. But the human
genome project also found that most of our DNA-about 98.5%-doesn't make
proteins. It was originally described as junk."


Recent evidence suggests that so-called 'junk DNA' guides our
development. It interacts with RNA and proteins to turn genes on and
off. This 'epigenetic' information can even respond to the environment
and influence future generations. 


"Our understanding of how genomes work is rapidly changing. This new
knowledge and the dramatic drop in the cost of gene sequencing give
Australia unique opportunities," says current AGRF director Sue Forrest.


*         Genomics is revealing the secrets of wine yeasts and how they
contribute to the flavour and complexity of a wine, according to the
Australian Wine Research Institute's managing director Sakkie Pretorius.

*         Genome analysis has confirmed that vaccines don't cause a
certain form of epilepsy. It is also helping in the search for the genes
underlying many complex and rare genetic diseases, says Melbourne
epilepsy specialist Sam Berkovic.  

*         An animal or plant genome may reveal how well it can adapt to
climate change, according to Ary Hoffmann of the University of

*         It could be possible to identify the unique signature of a
cancer cell using epigenetics-the complex mix of proteins that control
how a gene is expressed. Susan Clark from the Garvan Institute of
Medical Research hopes to create a new generation of cancer tests. 

*         Australia's Chief Scientist Jim Peacock says that what makes
plants flower isn't in the genes. He and his colleagues say that
understanding the control of flowering may lead to agricultural
innovations, such as precise control of flowering in a variety of crops.

*         Genomics is helping Monash University's Ben Adler to
fast-track a vaccine to protect farmers and cattle against
leptospirosis, a bacterial infection that causes production losses in
many domestic animal species.

*         ANU's Jenny Graves, is using the almost complete wallaby
genome map to pinpoint important human genes. 





Australia New Zealand Biotechnology Partnership Fund (ANZBPF)
applications open


Following the recent announcement of a NZ $3.8m grant package for the
Australia New Zealand Biotechnology Partnering Fund (ANZBPF),
applications for the 2008/09 fund are now open. 


The fund is administered by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) and
is designed to facilitate and accelerate trans-Tasman biotechnology
industry collaboration. The fund supports significant trans-Tasman
alliances that develop greater regional strength, sustained
profitability, access to, and competitiveness in, international markets
for New Zealand's biotechnology products and services.


Previous grants have been awarded to companies covering a wide range of
biotech projects including the commercialisation of bone graft
technology, cancer therapy, nerve repair, a blood-typing product, a
diagnostic tool, pasture endophytes and a new grass variety. 


A total grant funding of NZ$4.5 million is available for the 2008/09


Details at www.scienceinpublic.com <http://www.scienceinpublic.com>  




>From Smallpox Eradication to SARS, Avian Influenza and Polio Eradication

Thursday 17 and Friday 18 April


The WHO's Dr David Heymann is speaking at two events in Perth. 


Thursday night at the inaugural Aileen Plant Memorial Lecture, and
Friday afternoon at a retirement seminar for microbiologist Dr John


David Heymann is credited with helping discover Ebola and Legionnaire's
diseases, exterminating smallpox and stopping the spread of SARS.  


He was described by The Lancet as 'WHO's public health guru.'


He is currently the WHO's Assistant Director-General-Health Security and
Environment and Representative of the Director-General for Polio


Before joining the WHO, Dr Heymann worked for 13 years as a medical
epidemiologist in sub-Saharan Africa on assignment from the US Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Dr Heymann also worked for two
years in India as a medical epidemiologist in the WHO Smallpox
Eradication Programme.


For interviews contact Ann Marie Lim, ann.lim at curtin.edu.au or 0401 103


The lectures are: 


Thursday 17 April 2008, 5.30pm - 7.30pm, Building 213, Curtin University
of Technology, Kent Street, Bentley 


And Friday 18 April 2008, 3.00pm - 4.30pm, Bankwest Theatre, Curtin
University of Technology, Kent Street, Bentley


AusSMC heads up

Welcome to Heads-up from the AusSMC, a handy planning guide to hot
topics and events coming up in the next week and over the horizon. More
details on hot topics marked 'under embargo' are only available to
registered journalists, so if you are not already registered and would
like to be please click here
<http://www.aussmc.org/Journalist_registration.php> . Contact the AusSMC
<mailto:info at aussmc.org>  (08 8207 7415) if you'd like help locating an
Australian expert to interview on any of the following stories.


What's on this week:


Food crisis - A long awaited report from the International Assessment of
Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) will be
released simultaneously in London, Washington, Nairobi, Delhi and Paris
tonight. According to the press advisory
<http://www.agassessment.org/index.cfm?Page=Press_Materials&ItemID=11> ,
the report will suggest that modern agriculture will have to change
radically if the world is to avoid social breakdown and environmental
collapse. Key issues in the fight for food security include the current
commodity prices boom, high volatility in the oil market, and record
high food prices. A number of Australian scientists are standing by to
read the report tonight and will be available to do media interviews.


Is the Earth cooling? The ongoing debate. Following heated discussion
over the cooling question, the AusSMC has collated comments from a
variety of experts (see rapid roundup
<http://www.aussmc.org/Is_the_Earth_Cooling.php> ). A ScienceBlog by
Robert Fawcett from the Bureau of Meteorology will be added later in the


Cancer: Helping the immune system - Nature  (EMBARGOED till 3am AEST
Thursday 17 April)

The growth of new blood vessels (known as angiogenesis) is necessary for
cancerous tumours to keep growing and spreading. In Nature this week
Australian researchers have identified a protein involved in this
process which could be a target for anti-cancer therapy.  

CONTACT:  Ruth Ganss (Western Australian Institute for Medical Research,
Perth, WA), Tel: 08 9224 0354; E-mail: ganss at waimr.uwa.edu.au
<mailto:ganss at waimr.uwa.edu.au> 


Excess pneumonia deaths linked to engine exhaust - Journal of
Epidemiology and Community Health 

Engine exhaust fumes are linked to excess deaths from pneumonia,
suggests research out of England. Pneumonia deaths were strongly and
independently linked to emissions, in particular oil combustion,
including vehicle exhaust fumes.  The Author suggests the annual death
toll is comparable to that caused by the London smog in 1952.


Perceptual uncertainty and line-call challenges in professional tennis -
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences (EMBARGOED till
9.01am AEST Wednesday 16 April)

Is it in or out? Line calls can be pivotal in determining the outcome of
tennis matches and new research has shown that both players and line
judges are bound to make errors. When a ball bounces very close to a
court line, the brain is unable to locate its position with sufficient
precision to reach a correct decision on every occasion. But despite all
the tantrums, line judges are still more accurate than players.


Coming Up:


Conference: The AusSMC is planning a national briefing in Melbourne to
coincide with the 3rd Asia Pacific Nutrigenomics Conference2008:
Diet-Gene Interaction in Human Health and Disease, 6-9 May. 




Kind regards,



Niall Byrne

Science Communication Consultant
Science in Public

phone +61 3 9398 1416
mobile +61 417 131 977 
skype niall_byrne

niall at scienceinpublic.com.au <mailto:niall at scienceinpublic.com.au>  
www.scienceinpublic.com <http://www.scienceinpublic.com> 


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