The University of Sydney
Biological Sciences
MARCH 2012
Postdoctoral fellows
Dr Emily Remnant

Emily recently joined the Social Insects Lab to work with Madeleine Beekman and Ben Oldroyd, where she will be involved in ongoing current projects investigating the genetics of honeybee reproduction.

Emily completed her PhD on the genetic basis of insecticide resistance using Drosophila melanogaster as a model, at the University of Melbourne. Through this research, she became interested in gene function, expression and comparative genomics of insects. Initially, Emily was interested in honeybees for their ecological importance, however became interested in exploring the genetic complexities of social insects and their population genetics. She's very happy to be working in one of the leading Bee research laboratories and looking forward to learning even more about these fascinating insects.

Professional staff
Malith Weerakoon

Mal came over to SoBs with the Banks Lab from UNSW last year. After completing his masters last year, Mal worked as a casual Research Assistant on the 'Sydney Bush Rat Project' and has recently been promoted onto a contract working on the same project. The Bush Rat Project is investigating the processes of reinvasion by invasive black rats into Sydney Harbour, following the reintroduction of native bush rats (Rattus fuscipes).

Mal completed a BSc at UNSW 2008 and a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) at UNSW in 2011. For his masters, he studied the movements of the black rat (Rattus rattus) across the urban-bushland interface using the bait marker Rhodamine B.

Professor Maria Mercedes Ortega Hidalgo

Prof Maria Mercedes Ortega Hidalgo, from the University of the Basque Country, Bilbao in Spain, is visiting Prof Maria Byrne's laboratory for the next six months. During her stay, Mercedes will be examining climatic change and its effects on marine invertebrates.

Mercedes obtained her degree in Biology in 1979 and her PhD in 1985 from the University of the Basque Country and has held the position of Professor at this university since 1989. Throughout her research career, Mercedes has focussed on the ecophysiology and physiological energetics of marine hard-bottom and soft-bottom intertidal invertebrates, with a particular focus on anemones and bivalves. She has also worked on feeding, growth and reproduction in terrestrial gastropods. In recent years, she has been involved in projects of integrated management of coastal areas (tropical and temperate) and research on the potential effects of climate change on gastropods inhabiting different latitudes.

During her visit to Sydney, Mercedes hopes to further develop her research skills and extend her knowledge of coastal environments in a new geographical area where the effects of climate change are intensively studied.

Dr Richard Mann

Richard is a postdoctoral fellow based in Uppsala, Sweden, who is spending two months in Sydney to build upon an existing collaboration with Ashley Ward and James 'Teddy' Herbert-Read. Richard specialises in the mathematics of collective behaviour and is interested in exploring how individual needs lead to group behaviours and how that differs from the way individuals behave on their own.

During the course of a Physics degree at Oxford University, he was inspired by a seminar on pigeons and ultimately used his mathematical skills to develop statistical models for the prediction and analysis of homing pigeon flight paths for his PhD. After the end of his PhD in 2010, he began working as a postdoctoral fellow for David Sumpter at Uppsala Unviersity in Sweden. Richard, Ashley and Teddy have already successfully published papers on the rules of interaction between individual fish in shoals.

Whilst in Sydney, Richard will see their latest experiments in action, which will facilitate the development of informative mathematical models.

Hilke Willemson

Hilke is a post-doctoral fellow from the University of Leuven in Belgium who is visiting Frank Seebacher's lab in order to investigate the development and evolution of endothermy. Specifically, she will examine the role of two regulatory proteins, PPAR and AMPK, in this process. Both PPAR and AMPK are essential in metabolic regulation of vertebrates and their malfunctioning is associated with numerous diseases in humans. Embryos and neonates of birds are ectothermic but become endothermic by eight days after hatching. Therefore, the ontogeny of birds is a perfect model system to study molecular mechanisms behind the transition from ectothermy to endothermy.

In 2006, Hilke completed a Master of Science in Bio-Engineering at the University of Leuven and then worked as a research assistant on a project concerning chick quality and its relation with postnatal performance. She then went on to complete a PhD focussing on the effect of incubation temperature manipulations during late incubation on the metabolism and performance of broiler chick embryos and chickens.

The results of her PhD lead her to investigate the AMPK pathway and to read a paper by Isabel Walter and Frank Seebacher on the role of AMPK as a metabolic regulator and principal regulator in the transition from ectothermy to endothermy. She is looking forward to further developing this collaboration and to living in Australia for the next few months.

Dr Erika Eliason

Erika is a postdoctoral researcher visiting Frank Seebacher's lab for 12 months where she plans to examine temperature tolerance, phenotypic plasticity and local adaptation in fish populations. She describes herself as a physiologist at heart who likes to study physiological questions within an ecological, evolutionary or conservation context. She had 'dabbled' in the study of bark beetle ecology, coral reef conservation and rhesus macaque sexual behaviour. However, most of her research has focused on the effect of climate change on migrating sockeye salmon populations in British Columbia, Canada. Erika completed her BSc at Simon Fraser University (Canada) in 2003 and went on to complete both her MSc and PhD at the University of British Columbia (Canada) under the supervision of Dr. Tony Farrell. Her research has taken her to several countries, including Fiji, Puerto Rico, Norway and England. Erika is excited to learn new techniques, the warm weather and the opportunity to study cool animals that are completely different from those found in her native Canada.

Dr Guenael Cabanes

Guenael is a postdoctoral fellow from the University of Paris XIII who is visiting Madeleine Beekman for one year. His main research interests are broad, spanning from understanding the complex structure and dynamics of social groups to artificial intelligence and data mining. The main aim of his current research project is to use nest-site selection by ant colonies as a paradigm to investigate how complex systems adapt their decision-making in a competitive environment. He hopes to experimentally determine how individual ants change their behaviour under competition and how intra- and inter-specific competition affects the quality of the decision at the colony level. The next step is to construct an Agent-Based model based on experimental results, to determine how individual behaviour results in the global pattern observed.

Guenael completed both a Master in Ethology at the University of Rennes I and a Master in Computer Science at the University of Paris XIII. During his PhD, he worked on the development of new data-mining tools and applied this to the study of the dynamic structure of emigrating ant groups.

Guenael decided to come to Sydney after meeting Madeleine at a conference in Copenhagen and discovering a mutual interest in the use of insects as model system in Complexity Science and the design of biology-inspired optimisation algorithms in collaboration with computer scientists.

PhD Students
Vuong Nyugen

Vuong Nyugen has just started a PhD project that will build up his honours work on the influence of dormant seed banks on plant population dynamics. Under the supervision Glenda Wardle and Yvonne Buckley from the University of Queensland, he will further investigate the role of the seed bank in a spatial and temporal context, with particular focus on the desert herb Trachymene glaucifolia. Part of his approach will include the use of integral projection models. Vuong's project will be part of a collaborative ARC project involving academics from SoBs, the University of Queensland, Harvard, and Stockholm University.

Although Vuong is most interested in the modelling aspects of his project, he says that his fascination for the biology of plants is growing.

Oliver Griffith

Oliver has continued on from his work as an honours student and research assistant in Mike Thompson's lab to explore the role of parent-offspring conflict in the evolution of a nutritive placenta. He will be studying lizards that give birth to live young, where the embryos rely on both yolk provided before development and the nutrients provided across the placenta. As the placenta is a combination of both maternal and embryonic tissue, both the mother and embryo have some control over how much nutrients are provided by the mother to the embryo, hence there is room for conflict between these two parties. The embryos want as much nutrients as they can get to make themselves big and strong and the mothers want to make sure they have enough nutrients to give birth to as many fit offspring as they can.

Oliver hopes to take advantage of the current advances in RNA sequencing technologies to show how the maternal and embryonic placental tissues function and explain how this conflict is controlled. He also aims to hybridise closely related species that have different ratios of yolk to placental nutrient provision to see how much control the embryo has over maternal investment.


Welcome to the 2012 semester 1 honours students, who recently gave their introductory seminars. The new students will be studying topics ranging from proteins to ecological modelling and archaeology, once again displaying the diverse range of research carried out in the school.

From left to right: (standing) Deborah Romero, Elyce Coluccio, Tracey Wright, Dan McLoughlin, Ben Warwick, Ryan Keith, Andrew Daly (sitting) Heather Clarksen, Nicole Sims, Melanie Laird, Stephanie Garside.

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School postgraduate management
Science communication
Division of Natural Sciences retreat
Summer teaching
Budget 2012: A difficult road ahead
OH&S news
The Australian | Maria Byrne
Study finds coral reef growth thrives in warmer waters
ABC Victoria | Maria Byrne
Red and the humble sea cucumber
ABC 774 Melbourne | Maria Byrne
Sea Cucumbers
ABC Tropical North, Mackay | Maria Byrne
Sea Cucumbers
ABC Tropical North, Townsville | Maria Byrne
Sea Cucumbers
ABC Capricornia, Rockhampton | Maria Byrne
Sea Cucumbers
Radio National, Bush Telegraph | Alex Carthey
Are dingoes native to Australia? Bandicoots answer the question
Namoi Valley Independent | Mathew Crowther
Gunnedah leads the way in protecting koala habitat
3AW | Mathew Crowther
Myrtle Rust and Koalas
Madison | Alison Gosby
High heels are harmful (and other mantras you might want to rethink)
4BC | Steve Simpson
Locusts and Obesity
Campus Daily | Steve Simpson
World-renowned scientist to head multi disciplinary centre tackling 'lifestyle diseases'
Radio National, The World Today | Steve Simpson
Obesity expert finds link between locusts and humans
The Australian | Steve Simpson
Obesity boss announced
Australian Food News | Steve Simpson
World-renowned scientist to head new Sydney University centre tackling obesity and diabetes

Professor Steve Simpson has been named as the new director of the Charles Perkins Centre (CPC). The university has invested 385 million dollars into the new centre which will focus on the prevention of obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, which are among the leading cases of mortality and disability in Australia. "This is the largest and most ambitious project that the University of Sydney has ever embarked upon", said Professor Simpson. "It is unique in that it's attempting to look across the entire spans of disciplines breadth from the arts and humanities, through to the medical, biological and agricultural sciences, in order to address these complex issues. For a biologist to be asked to be the academic director speaks highly of the discipline of biology and it will bring the Biological Sciences right into the heart of this massive, ambitious and exciting project."

The CPC is expected to be fully operational in 2014.

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Thanks to Glenda Wardle for her wonderful contribution over four years as chair of the postgraduate studies committee. Glenda has carried out this incredibly challenging role with dedication, tact and boundless enthusiasm. Murray Henwood will take over as chair until the second half of 2012, when he will be away on sabbatical leave.

Ross Coleman will take over as Associate Dean for Postgraduate Matters in the Faculty of Science from 2013 and is playing a role as Deputy Associate Dean for 2012. Ros Malin will be stepping down from her role as the Postgraduate and Honours Student Services Coordinator on the 30th of April for a period of extended leave. We hope she enjoys her hard earned break.

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Cecily Oakley will commence in the role of science communicator on the 12th of March. Thanks to all staff who pulled together to ensure the continuing success of the school's communication and outreach initiatives during the transition period, following the resignation of the previous science communicator.

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In February, representatives from Vet, Agriculture, the Faculty of Science and SoBs attended a divisional retreat to further develop strategies for collaborative teaching across the Division of Natural Sciences. The particular areas under development are genetics, biometry, mathematics and cell biology. The introduction of the postgraduate veterinary medicine program has been delayed until 2014 due to uncertainty of governmental funding. The move of the Bachelor of Environmental Systems to the Faculty of Science has also been delayed until 2013.

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Teaching in SoBs got off to a fantastic start this year with both the Summer School and Biology Bridging courses going very well with excellent feedback from participating students. The head of school would like to thank to all staff involved for ensuring the success of these programs. She would also like to acknowledge the hard work of the first year biology team who have revamped the practical component of Concepts in Biology and Living Systems.

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SoBs has a budgeted loss of one million dollars for 2012 and we anticipate that we will need to make even further savings. We are unlikely to reach budget targets for the level of student fees, therefore the loss may be even greater. As a consequence, 2012 will be a hard year and we will need to decrease casual and part-time teaching expenses.

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The School Safety Manual, used in conjunction with staff inductions, has been revised for 2012. The current version refers to Work Health and Safety (WHS) in place of the old Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) to better reflect the new Harmonisation Laws. Additionally, many of the links to the University's WHS Office had changed over the end of year. These have been updated in the new document. New Chief Fire Wardens have been updated. If your lab safety documentation includes the manual, you should update it.

You will find links to the document on the School's Intranet Safety Induction pages, or directly at:

This is an ever-changing document. If you identify any broken links, edits, misspellings or other changes needed, please contact Michael Joseph.

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