Developmental biologist joins School of Biological Sciences

23 June 2010

On returning to Australia after 14 years in the UK and USA, developmental biologist Dr Mary Byrne takes up the position of senior lecturer in eukaryotic molecular biology and genetics in the School of Biological Sciences.

Dr Byrne, whose research is in identifying genes that control a plant's development from stem cells into complex differentiated tissues, has recently returned from the John Innes Centre in the UK. There, in the Department of Crop Genetics, she directed a program focused on the genes that regulated the development and growth of the model plant species Arabidopsis and commercially important grasses and food crops.

Now based in the Macleay building at the University of Sydney, Dr Byrne joins a blossoming research contingent involved in plant molecular genetics within the School of Biological Sciences, which includes recently appointed staff members Professor Peter Waterhouse and Dr Penny Smith. "I'm so looking forward to collaborating with my new colleagues who work in similar fields," says Dr Byrne. "I'm also keen to start some cross-collaborations with people in other areas, like Simon Ho who is an expert in bioinformatics."

Whilst Dr Byrne is new to the School, she has close connections with members of the Molecular Genetics Laboratory, having conducted her PhD under the supervision of Professor Ron Skurray at Monash University. "Obviously with Ron as my supervisor, my PhD research did not involve plants!" said Dr Byrne. "I worked on antibiotic resistance transposons in the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. During my PhD I became interested in the way some bacterial cells, like Bacillus, differentiate and develop. But to explore this in more complexity, I had to make the move into multicellular organisms."

Dr Byrne chose to work on plants, which took her to the CSIRO Division of Plant Industry for her first postdoctoral fellowship, followed by eight years in the internationally renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, USA. Here with Professor Rob Martienssen, Dr Byrne began her research on the molecular genetical control of plant development, using Arabidopsis.

Today, Dr Byrne's research focuses on genes that control plant shoot meristems (stem cells that give rise to the body of the plant), the molecular basis of leaf patterning and the role of ribosomes in plant development, which Dr Byrne says has led to some recent exciting findings. "Results from experiments in which we mutated ribosomal proteins have indicated that we might be greatly underestimating the role played by ribosomal proteins in eukaryotic development."

In addition to research, Dr Byrne will take on a teaching role in the School with eight lectures and practical classes in the second semester Developmental Genetics course this year. Dr Byrne says she is keen to work with senior students and to experiment with various teaching methods in her course. "My course will be small, so I really want to encourage interactive discussion and problem solving. Undergraduate teaching will also be a great way of attracting students into my new lab."

Contact: Carla Avolio

Phone: 02 9351 4543

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