Denison Summer Scholarships - Life and Environmental Sciences


Project: (SOLES1) Understanding the role of epigenetics in male fertility

While working with a mutant strain of C.elegans that has a defect in epigenetic inheritance - the transmission of signals other than DNA between parent and offspring - we discovered an unexpected defect in male fertility. This project will use a variety of molecular biology and genetic techniques to understand how this infertility is occurring, and how it might influence our understanding of epigenetic inheritance.

Supervisor: Dr Alyson Ashe

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Dec or Dec-Jan or Jan-Feb

Prerequisites: Some Biology and Molecular Biology preferred but not essential

 

Project: (SOLES2) Determing the function of a putative histone methyltransferase.

The protein SET-32 is required for transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, but we don't know what it's molecular function actually is. The aim of this project is to express the protein and a suite of deletion mutnats in E. coli and determine it's function in vitro.

Supervisor: Dr Alyson Ashe

Secondary Supervisor: Professor Joel MacKay

Dates: Nov-Dec or Dec-Jan or Jan-Feb

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES3) Engineering of hydrophobin proteins for structural studies and biotech applications

Hydrophobins are fungal proteins that can naturally coat structures and reverse their wettability. This property can be exploited for coating applications ranging from drug delivery to increasing the biocompatiblity of surfaces. You will be investigating how changes in hydrophobin sequence affect its coating properties.

Supervisor: Dr Ann Kwan

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Feb

Prerequisites: Biochemistry, Molecular biology, Protein and Gene or equivalent

 

Project: (SOLES4) Engineering of hydrophobin proteins for structural studies and biotech applications

Hydrophobins are fungal proteins that can naturally coat structures and reverse their wettability. This property can be exploited for coating applications ranging from drug delivery to increasing the biocompatiblity of surfaces. You will be investigating how changes in hydrophobin sequence affect its coating properties.

Supervisor: Dr Ann Kwan

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Feb

Prerequisites: Biochemistry, Molecular biology, Protein and Gene or equivalent

 

Project: (SOLES5) Guppy love

The stakes are high when animals choose their mates; a good decision can mean a long and successful lineage, a poor decision may lead to an evolutionary dead end. But what are the characteristics that animals use to make these decisions, and how are they affected by the presence and the decisions of other animals in their environment? You will use the guppy, a freshwater fish, to examine this question and to shed light on this central evolutionary question.

Supervisor: Professor Ashley Ward

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Feb

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES6) Learning, Information Use and Collective Decision-Making

For animals as well as for ourselves, life presents a series of decisions. Animal have to decide when and where to move in order to forage effectively, or to avoid their predators. You will examine how social animals (in this case, fish) gather information and learn, and how they are able to share and integrate their information with other group members in order to make effective collective decisions.

Supervisor: Professor Ashley Ward

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Feb

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES7) Assessing the density of feral honey bee nests using sex pheromones

Assist with field work in South Australia and NSW in a project to assess the density of feral bees in cropping areas.  The work involves using balloons and pheromone lures to catch drones (just like in the Animal Behaviour prac if you did that course). There is an opportunity for genotyping and data analysis too if you want to.  All transport and accommodation will be paid by the project (on top of  the scholarship) while on field work.

Supervisor: Professor Ben Oldroyd

Secondary Supervisor: Dr. Rosalyn Gloag

Dates: Nov-Early Mar

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES8) CRISPR tomatoes: improved nutrition through targeted gene modifications

Modern tomato varieties are highly productive but the gains in productivity have come at the cost of the flavor and nutritional value of the fruit. In this project you will apply CRISPR gene editing technology to improve the flavor and nutritional profile of a modern, productive tomato cultivar. You will learn and apply cutting edge molecular biology and micro-manipulation techniques.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Brian Jones

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Dec-Jan

Prerequisites: BIOL1007

 

Project: (SOLES9) Understanding the molecular basis of seed development using fluorescent genetic markers

From wheat to beans and nuts, seeds provide over 60% of human nutrition. We have developed a number of plant lines expressing fluorescent proteins (GFP, YFP, RFP) in various cell types and stages of seed development in order to understand more about the molecular basis of the fundamental process of seed development. In this project you will analyse transgenic plant lines using microscopy and molecular techniques.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Brian Jones

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Jan-Feb

Prerequisites: BIOL1007

 

Project: (SOLES10) Nectar availability for birds in modified urban habitats

Urban landscapes comprise a wide range of habitats which have been subjected to disturbance.  Depending on the level of modification there may be significant changes in abundance and diversity of nectar-producing plants, which will affect bird populations in these areas. This project will survey the availability of nectar resources, and the birds using them, in remnant bushland, streets and parks across the Sydney area

Supervisor: Associate Professor Charlotte Taylor

Secondary Supervisor: Dr Adrian Davis

Dates: Dec-Jan, Jan-Feb, Feb-Mar

Prerequisites: BIOL 1002

 

Project: (SOLES11) Complex systems analysis of agricultural value chains in Cambodia

Agricultural value chains in Cambodia are complex. This project is linked to the Australian government funded ACIAR project CSE-2015-044 and uses novel social network analysis algorithms to map out agricultural value chains. The contraints are identified to help smallholder farmers access markets.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Daniel Tan

Secondary Supervisor: Dr Petr Matous

Dates: Jan-Feb

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES12) What diets will make us live longer?

How does our genetic background interact with the nutrients in our diet to promote a long and healthy life? Many longevity pathways including mTOR , lie at the heart of nutrient sensing and metabolism, yet their role in determining lifespan remains unclear. In this project, you will use the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) as a model organism to identify diet responsive genes that regulate longevity. You will learn the basics of Drosophila genetics to perform longevity and nutritional experiments, and to analyse and interpret the data you collect. You will be supervised by two postdocs who will teach you all the methods and guide you through the project.

Supervisor: Professor David James

Secondary Supervisor: Dr Deanna Francis or Dr Essi Havula

Dates: Nov-Early Mar

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES13) Can we immunise honey bees against virulent viruses?

Declines in honeybee health due to viral disease severely impacts the beekeeping industry and puts our food supply at risk. The goal of this project is to improve honeybee health by developing and enabling a novel method to increase honeybee resistance to viruses, using a natural bacterial symbiont of insects, Wolbachia. Wolbachia provides increased virus resistance in mosquitoes and flies, and is currently used to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne human disease. This project will determine whether Wolbachia can provide protection against viruses in honeybees. You will learn: how to harvest honey bee eggs; how to extract wolbachia from insects; and how to use microinjection equipment to inject wolbachia into honey bee eggs.

Supervisor: Dr Emily Remnant

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Jan-Feb

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES14) Drought effects on grassland community composition and soil properties

Drought is expected to increase in south eastern Australia affecting the functioning of grasslands.  In this project you will be involved in a drought experiment at John Pye Farm, Bringelly (see: https://jecologyblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/20/editors-choice-105-4/) examining how drought impacts the grassland community.  You will also analyse soils for nutrient availability and link those to drought effects on the plant community.  The work will be done at the Centre for Carbon, Water and Food in Camden.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Feike A Dijkstra

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Jan-Feb

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES15) Physiological mechanisms underlying animal group dynamics

The project aims to provide novel insights into how individual differences in muscle function and metabolism constrain group assemblages, and the extent to which these constraints can cause fission and fusion of populations in changing environments. This research is significant because most ecological and evolutionary biological processes and their management occur at the level of groups.

Supervisor: Professor Frank Seebacher

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Dec or Dec-Jan

Prerequisites: BIOL2x21 or BIOL3x45 or equivalent

 

Project: (SOLES16) Exploring neuronal aging using bioorthogonal labelling of the neuronal proteome

Advanced age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer's Disease development, but why the brains of aged individuals show increased susceptibility is not known. We are using the worm Caenorhabditis elegans to investigate neuronal aging. Using bioorthogonal labelling of neuronal proteins, this project aims to identify age-related changes in the neuronal proteome to better understand age-associated disease susceptibility.

Supervisor: Dr Hannah Nicholas

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Dec

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES17) Mustard's biofumigation effect on early root growth and mycorrhizal associations in other crops

Mustard releases glucosinalates in the soil, which helps reduce the incidence of pests and diseases for the following crops. However, it may also have adverse effects on beneficial organisms like mycorrhizae or rhizobia. This project will grow wheat and chickpea in soil where mustard was previously grown, and using minirhizotrons examine the impact on root growth, mycorrhizal interaction with roots and development of nitrogen fixing nodules on chickpea. The outcome will be greater understanding about the sustainability of cropping systems if mustard is introduced to rotations.

Supervisor: Dr Helen Bramley

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Dec or Feb-Early Mar

Prerequisites: BIOL1xxx and an interest in plant biology or sustainable agriculture

 

Project: (SOLES18) Contribution of seed size and quality to emergence and early vigour in chickpea

Farmers grow grain legumes like chickpea in their crop rotations because it helps to break disease cycles and because their ability to fix nitrogen from the atmosphere reduces the need for nitrogenous fertilisers. However, drought is the main constraint to improving chickpea yields. Rapid growth and accumulation of biomass (early vigour) may be useful traits to improve chickpea resistance to drought which tends to occur later in the growing season. This project will examine the role of the properties of the seeds on germination, emergence and early growth of chickpea.

Supervisor: Dr Helen Bramley

Secondary Supervisor: Dr Purush Ramamurthy

Dates: Nov-Dec or Feb-Early Mar

Prerequisites: BIOL1xxx and an interest in plant biology or sustainable agriculture

 

Project: (SOLES19) Impacts of translocation on Tasmanian devils

Tasmanian devil populations have been decimated by devil facial tumour disease. The Save the Tasmanian Devil Program have begun trial releases of Tasmanian devils to wild sites. This project will assess the impacts of the translocation event itself; is flying better or worse for the devils than travelluing by boat and vehicle from the island site to the release site. We will use faecal cortisol to assess the impact of translocation event by using samples collected  before, during and post-release and compare these to control samples. Outcomes for this project will be provided directly to the Save the Tasmanian Devil Program in real-time to ensure their adapative management decisions are based on empirical evidence.

Supervisor: Professor Kathy Belov

Secondary Supervisor: Dr Carolyn Hogg

Dates: Feb-Early Mar

Prerequisites: Open to 3rd year student only

 

Project: (SOLES20) Patterning mechanisms controlling leaf shape

Understanding leaf development using live-imaging and mosaic analysis.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Marcus Heisler

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Dec

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES21) Is there an app for that? Smartphones for dietary intervention.

The aim of this project is to develop a database of the nutritional content of common supermarket foods. Using photographic images of bar codes and nutrition panels the student will determine the nutrient content of foods. Ultimately this will be used in a Smartphone app for assessing and improving diet in young adults.

Supervisor: Professor Margaret Allman-Farinelli

Secondary Supervisor: Dr Luke Gemming

Dates: Jan-Feb or Feb-Early Mar

Prerequisites: MATH1015 or MATH1005

 

Project: (SOLES22) The Impact of Climate Change Stressors on Marine Invertebrates

This project will investigate the impacts of ocean warming and ocean acidification in context with near future projections on marine invertebrates with a focus on echinoderm and mollusc species.  The research will entail rearing life history stages  in ocean change conditions using facilities on campus and the Sydney Institute of Marine Science at Chowder Bay.  Responses of the experimental animals will be compared using biomarkers of animal health (metabolism, cell stress markers, genetic markers, growth and morphology).  The goal of the research is to determine which species may be the comparative ‘winners’ or ‘losers’ in the ocean change stakes.

Supervisor: Professor Maria Byrne

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Feb

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES23) Evolution and Development

This project investigates the evolution of the echinoderm pentameral body plan, one of the most unusual animal body plans and the development of their central nervous system to identify axis homologues with other Bilateria.  The research involves developmental and gene expression studies.

Supervisor: Professor Maria Byrne

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Feb

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES24) What are the drivers of long term change in Lepidoptera assemblages?

In recent decades, there has been increasing concern over the impact of environmental change on biodiversity, specifically the rapid loss of many different species. Across the UK, both land use and climate change over the past 40 years have likely effected the distribution patterns of Lepidopterans. Using a large longitudinal dataset of moth species, trapped nightly over a 20 year period, this project will evaluate potential changes in moth assemblages in relation to environmental change. Working with collaborators at Bangor University, UK, this project will require critical thinking, statistical analysis and manuscript preparation.

Supervisor: Dr Mark de Bruyn

Secondary Supervisor: Associate Professor Nathan Lo

Dates: Nov-Dec

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES25) Type I interferons in the antiviral host response in the brain

Our research aims to dissect mechanisms and signalling pathways important in immune responses in the brain. We are in particular intersted in antiviral responses and type I interferons. For this we use a number of different transgenic and virus infection models.

Supervisor: Dr Markus Hofer

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Dec or Jan-Feb

Prerequisites: MBLG1xx1

 

Project: (SOLES26) Strawberry notch homolog 2 in brain physiology and pathophysiology

Strawberry notch homolog 2 (Sbno2) is a largely uncharacterised gene expressed in response to pro-inflammatory stimuli. Our studies aim to determine the function of Sbno2 in the brain using transgenic mouse model. Characterisation of this mouse model will delineate the function of Sbno2 in the healthy and inflamed CNS.

Supervisor: Dr Markus Hofer

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Dec or Jan-Feb

Prerequisites: MBLG1xx1

 

Project: (SOLES27) Koala diet selection in response to habitat

Koalas need to balance the need for nutrients in their diet against other components of leaves, including FPCs, terpenes, tannins and fibre. We are studying a population near Gunnedah and we are interested how these factors all interact. We are particularly interested in fibre, which may have a negative impact on feeding. The project will involve extracting the chemical components of leaves, and comparing them to the trees that the koalas use the most.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Mathew Crowther

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Dec-Jan

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES28) Insulin secretion in normal and type 2 diabetic pancreatic beta-cells.

One of the hallmarks of type 2 diabetes is reduced insulin secretion from the pancreatic beta-cell. Insulin in pancreatic beta-cells is stored in insulin secretory granules. In this project we will perform molecular characterisation of insulin secretory granules in normal and type 2 diabetic beta-cells. Findings from this project could provide some insight into why insulin granules are defective in type 2 diabetes.

Supervisor: Dr Melkam Kebede

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Dec

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES29) Effect of harvester type and setup on Harvest Weed Seed Control

Weed seeds collected by the harvester are controlled by Harvest Weed Seed Control Systems (e.g. Harrington Seed destructor (iHSD)) to prevent these seeds being spread back across fields. However, some harvesters colect and destroy more weed seeds than others. Therefore, during wheat crop harvest different harvesters will be compared for their ability to collect weed seeds as well as crop grain.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Michael Walsh

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Dec

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES30) Unravelling the pain mechanisms in osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is debilitating condition characterized by degeneration of joint tissues, chronic joint dysfunction and pain. OA affects both animals and humans, and is the single largest individual cause of chronic pain in Australia. There are no approved therapies to halt the joint damage caused by OA, and critically, the currently available pain modifying treatments have only moderate long-term effects at best. Clearly developing new therapies to manage chronic OA pain is a significant unmet need.

A major contributor to lack of development of effective treatments is that the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie and drive OA pain are poorly understood. One of the key approaches in defining these mechanisms is the use and in-depth interrogation of animal models that mimic the disease. This is particularly important for OA pain, that not only requires nerve signals to arise from a noxious stimulus in a diseased joint, but the perception of these signals by the brain and their interpretation as “pain”. We have used a validated model of surgically-induced OA in mice, and mapped a suite of pain outcomes over time in animals receiving placebo or intra-articular corticosteroid injection at different stages of disease. The summer student project forms a critical component of this study, and will focus on analysis of the spinal dorsal root ganglia harvested from these mice to evaluate expression of a panel of genes implicated in the chronic pain process. Change in expression of these genes will be correlated with pain outcomes and OA joint pathology. Through this project the student will work as part of an internationally recognised OA research group, learn a variety of research methods (RNA extraction and quantitative RT-PCR, histology, pain outcome evaluation, correlation statistics), help unravel a key clinical question, and define potential new therapeutic targets to manage chronic OA pain.

Supervisor: Dr Sanaa Zaki

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Early Mar

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES31) Tnp26 and its transposable elements

The IS26 transposase, Tnp26, is able to recognize and bring together one IS and a random target site in the replicative mode or two IS26 in the conservative reaction. We aim to identify and characterize the subdomains of Tnp26 involved in recognition of the IRs or in multimerization and 2. Characterize the multimeric states of purified Tnp26 or combinations of Tnp26 subdomains either alone or in complex with IS26 or IS26 IR.

Supervisor: Dr Sandro Ataide

Secondary Supervisor: Professor Ruth Hall

Dates: Dec- Feb

Prerequisites: BCHM2x71

 

Project: (SOLES32) Discovery of biomarkers for heat tolerance in crop species

Crop species suffer from heat stress under Australian summer conditions which negatively impacts on yields. Metabolic biomarkers are routinely used in medicine to diagnose but they are never used this way on crops. This project aims to identify chemical biomarkers for heat tolerance in wheat and legumes. Identification of such markers will facilitate the release of new, superior varieties and improvement of yields for farmers.

Supervisor: Dr Sarah Purdy

Secondary Supervisor: Dr Helen Bramley

Dates: Nov-Dec or Feb-Early Mar

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES33) Evaluation of different plant tissue types to produce stable, reproducible results for metabolic analyses.

Metabolic profiling is used in plant and crop sciences to evaluate the chemical properties of different varieties and/or the changes that take place during stress conditions eg drought. Leaf tissue is often used as the prefered tissue type but leaves are very dynamic and rapidly change in accordance with their environment, therefore another tissue type such as the stem or petiole might be a more informed choice. This project will answer this question using multiple different species. It is intended that this study will be published as a methods paper.

Supervisor: Dr Sarah Purdy

Secondary Supervisor: Dr Helen Bramley

Dates: Nov-Dec or Feb-Early Mar

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES34) Evolutionary relationships of flightless ratite birds

Ratites, a group of large flightless birds, play a unique role in our understanding of the origins and loss of flight. The goal of this project is to review the latest evidence regarding the evolutionary relationships of these birds. The project will also involve identifying several bones from the extinct New Zealand moa and resolving their provenance. This project is run jointly with the Australian Museum and will provide opportunities for hands-on experience with materials from the museum collection. Potential outcomes of this project include a short scientific paper.

Supervisor: Professor Simon Ho

Secondary Supervisor: Dr Jacqueline Nguyen

Dates: Jan-Feb OR Feb-Mar

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES35) Why do honey bee colonies collapse?

Bee colonies sometimes collapse suddenly and with little warning. In this field-based project you will work as part of an interdisciplinary team (including mathematicians and ecologists) to investigate the processes that lead to the collapse of honey bee colonies.

Supervisor: Dr Tanya Latty

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Dec or Feb-Mar

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES36) Mini-engineers: how do meat ants build their trail networks?

Australian meat ants build amazing, efficient transportation systems by clearing all the grass from their ‘highways’. How can insects with tiny pin-sized brains build such sophisticated transportation systems? In this field-based project you will conduct experiments aimed at discovering the behaviours that allow groups of meat ants to be much more intelligent than individuals.

Supervisor: Dr Tanya Latty

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Feb

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES37) Bee hotels: conservation tool or pollinator death traps?

Driven by concerns about global pollinator declines, many people have begun building and installing 'bee hotels' as a way to provide habitat for Australian solitary bees. However, these hotels might concentrate bee predators, parasites and diseases, ultimately causing more harm than good. In this project you will study the impact of bee hotels on pollinator health, and conduct experiments to help us understand  the behaviour of bee parasitoids and predators.

Supervisor: Dr Tanya Latty

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Dec or Dec-Jan

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES38) Can solider flies solve our waste problems AND feed the world?

Soldier flies are capable of decomposing a wide variety of organic wastes. In addition, they are high in protein, making them ideal livestock (or even human) food.  To get the most out of these hardworking insects,  a lot more research is needed on their behaviour and ecology. In this project you will conduct experiments to determine what sorts of wastes soldier flies can decompose,  investigate soldier fly behaviour and help develop an easy-to-use soldier fly system for home gardens.

Supervisor: Dr Tanya Latty

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Feb

Prerequisites:  

 

Project: (SOLES39) Stimulation of cell movement by viral infection

When infected, cells are converted into factories dedicated to producing viral progeny and transmitting virus. But what if those factories could move and deliver virus to distal sites?

Supervisor: Dr Tim Newsome

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Jan-Feb or Feb-Early Mar

Prerequisites: Major in the Life Sciences

 

Project: (SOLES40) Water supplementation for wild koalas

This study explores how free water availability affect koala health and evaluates water supplementation for koalas as a mitigation measure to halt their decline. The student will be required to perform video identification of individual koalas and behavioural scoring of koalas at water stations.

Supervisor: Dr Valentina Mella

Secondary Supervisor: Associate Professor Mathew Crowther

Dates: Nov-Feb

Prerequisites:

 

Project: (SOLES41) Behavioural ecology of mammalian herbivores

This project is aimed at understanding how mammalian herbivores such as swamp wallabies and brushtail possums forage - an activity that is central to determining animal fitness. We can manipulate plants and food in field work with free-ragning animals and/or with captive animals to explore how herbivores use plant odour to increase foraging effiiency, to test the relative influence of plants and predators on foraging decisions, and to understand the heuristics of foraging decisions.

Supervisor: Associate Professor Clare McArthur

Secondary Supervisor:   

Dates: Nov-Dec or Feb-Early Mar

Prerequisites: preferably BIOL2022 and/or BIOL2024 (not essential)