Professor Ruth Hall wins Macfarlane Burnet Medal and Lecture
10 January 2011
Professor Ruth Hall, from the School of Molecular Bioscience, has won the prestigious 2012 Macfarlane Burnet Medal and Lecture from the Australian Academy of Science.
The award recognises scientific research of the highest standing in the biological sciences and is only awarded every two years. Announced by the Australian Academy of Science in December 2010, the award celebrates Professor Hall's outstanding career.
The Macfarlane Burnet Medal and Lecture is awarded to Fellows of the Australian Academy of Science and commemorates the contributions to science by Sir Frank Macfarlane Burnet, a great Australian biologist and Nobel Laureate, who worked on bacteriophages and animal viruses, especially influenza virus, and immunological tolerance.
"I'm thrilled to win the Macfarlane Burnet Medal and Lecture - it's a tremendous honour. It's also a little daunting as I'm following in the footsteps of some of Australia's best known biological scientists," said Professor Hall.
"An added thrill for me is that one of my PhD supervisors, Professor Bill Hayes, was awarded the Medal in 1977."
Professor Hall has made a substantial and highly influential contribution to understanding how antibiotic resistance develops in bacteria. More broadly, her work has made a seminal contribution to understanding how genes of all types are mobilised by bacteria and hence how bacterial genomes evolve.
Antibiotic resistance has been a growing problem since the advent of life-saving antibiotic therapy. Professor Hall's research has provided a key milestone in understanding how bacteria become resistant to antibiotics and particularly how they become simultaneously resistant to several antibiotics.
Professor Hall discovered the integron/gene cassette system and immediately recognised its importance. She then devoted many years to unravelling its complexities and demonstrating experimentally how the system works. Her work is widely viewed as defining this field.
Professor Hall and her collaborator Hatch Stokes coined the terms 'integron' and 'gene cassette' to describe the components of this system - the terms are now in common usage and integrons and gene cassettes are part of undergraduate curricula around the world.
Professor Hall will receive her medal at an awards ceremony to be held in May 2011 at the Australian Academy of Science's Shine Dome in Canberra. She will deliver her lecture, as part of the award, in May 2012.
"In my lecture, I will talk about the role of mobile genetic elements, particularly the ones I have studied - integrons and conserved region elements - in the spread of antibiotic resistance genes and the role this plays in compromising antibiotic therapies," said Professor Hall.
"Our use of antibiotics in many different ways has effectively conducted a 30 year experiment on the effects of strong selection. So, I will also cover the broader impact of the study of antibiotic resistance gene movement on our understanding of bacterial evolution," explained Professor Hall.
Professor Rick Shine, from the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Sydney, previously won the Macfarlane Burnet Medal and Lecture in 2008. Professor Max Bennett, from the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney, also previously won the Macfarlane Burnet Medal and Lecture in 1999.
In the past, the Macfarlane Burnet Medal and Lecture has been awarded to such Australian scientific luminaries as Nobel Laureate Barry Marshall, Suzanne Cory, Don Metcalf, Frank Fenner, Jim Peacock, Jenny Graves, Gus Nossal and David Vaux.
See the full list of previous Macfarlane Burnet Medal and Lecture winners at: www.science.org.au/awards/awards/burnet.html
Contact: Katynna Gill
Phone: 02 9351 6997