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Research_

Life and environmental sciences

Researching the biggest issues facing our planet
Our life sciences research is shaping new approaches to address a range of important challenges faced by the world, including antibiotic-resistant bacteria, maintaining ecosystems, and food security.

Our research clusters

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Animal science

Animal health

We help to make animals healthier by working to minimise disease, infection and parasitism. We ensure that animals have diets that provide them adequate nutrition.

Animal production

Our research improves animal husbandry (nutrition, reproduction, genetics, management) to make the most of new opportunities in agriculture and to create a cleaner, healthier food production system for ongoing food security.

One health

One health is the interface between the health of animals and humans. Our researchers are investigating emerging infectious diseases of humans and animals, zoonoses and food security, particularly for those in the developing world.

Animal behaviour and welfare

Our team conducts research to assess animal welfare in companion animal and farm environments. We are working to assess methods for alleviating pain and stress in domestic animals. We collect data to investigate the precise methods that optimise animal performance and welfare on farm and off.

Fundamental biology

We are interested in the fundamental biology of life. This includes investigating the interactions between genes and the environment; understanding how gene networks interact, and developing the basic genetic tools to understand and prevent the expression of genetic disorders. We are also working to understand the biology of antibiotic and antifungal resistance; and discovering new antimicrobials.

Microscopic image of cells

Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology

Molecular basis of human disease

We aim to determine the genes and environmental factors that cause or are associated with important human diseases such as neurological disorders, diabetes and cancer.

Regulation of eukaryotic gene expression

We seek to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying the ability of an organism to switch genes on and off in a specific manner in different tissues and at different stages of development. We use a broad gamut of model organisms, ranging from plants (Arabidopsis) and nematodes (C. elegans) through to insects (Drosophila) and rodents (mouse).

Biotechnology

Our cluster has a significant profile in translating biochemical knowledge into commercial outcomes. Our research labs have pioneered products such as protein microarrays for cancer diagnosis and synthetic human elastin, which have been commercialised through the formation of startup companies. We have particularly strong infrastructure in the areas of proteomics, structural biology and biophysics.

Macromolecular structure and function

The three dimensional structures of proteins and other macromolecules – and the interactions between these molecules – underpin all of biology. Our cluster has established expertise and infrastructure in this area, and also has a long tradition of providing collaborative support to biologists across the country to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying macromolecular function.

Plant Molecular Biology

Life on Earth depends on the energy, oxygen and raw materials provided by plants. We investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying both plant architecture as well as how plants photosynthesise, which will contribute to solving the food and energy challenges of our world. The knowledge collected from our research will drive improved crop yields through transformational research that extends beyond natural photosynthetic organisms and systems.

 
Closeup of fresh fruits


 

Nutrition and dietetics

Dietetics includes the study of the food that people eat and its effects on wellbeing and on prevention and management of disease.

Dietary Intake Assessment

Our group has extensive experience in assessing and monitoring food and nutrient consumption of the population, including core foods groups (meat, fruit, vegetables, dairy products, grains, water), discretionary foods (fast foods, sugary beverages), portion sizes consumed, energy density of diets, diet quality and nutritional adequacy.

Nutritional Epidemiology across the lifecycle

The group has special interests in the diets of young adults and the elderly and is conducting two cohort studies. Young adults gain the most weight of any age group that will lead to obesity and chronic disease. The elderly are the growing demographic and good nutrition may be the key to longevity.

Use of new technologies in nutrition

The group is actively involved in collaborative research designing Smartphone applications and on-line tools for monitoring dietary intakes. The efficacy and cost efficacy of phone coaching, text messaging, apps and social media to deliver individualised nutrition and lifestyle interventions for young adults, prevention of diabetes and for people with type 2 diabetes are active areas of research.

Satellite view of jagged coastline


 

Ecology, evolution and environment

We look at the world from an evolutionary perspective. Evolutionary theory provides practical insights into how biota adapt or fail to adapt to environmental change, why organisms behave the way they do, and allows us to map evolutionary changes. 

Ecology, conservation and ecosystem function

Rapid environmental change, due to factors such as modified land use, invasive species and climate change, impose powerful new pressures on the affected populations and ecosystems. Ecological and evolutionary theory provides a toolbox of sophisticated methods ideally suited to dealing with those problems.

Animal behaviour, ecophysiology and behavioural genetics

What evolutionary processes have shaped the way animals behave and function? Using behavioural genetics we can examine the role of genetics and environment on an organism’s behaviour and function.

Molecular ecology and evolution

Using molecular population genetics, phylogenetics and genomics, we address many evolutionary questions in a range of plant, vertebrate and invertebrate animal taxa and across multiple temporal and spatial scales.

Extreme simulated closeup of microbes



Microbiology

Microbiology is the study of organisms that are too small to be seen with the human eye: bacteria, fungi, viruses and protists. These organisms are involved in diverse processes that underpin our ecosystems, cause health and disease, and result in useful products ranging from beer to biofuels.

We take a One Health approach, where we recognise the interconnectedness of health in humans, animals and the environment. Microbiology is a diverse offering, focusing not just on human pathogens, but taking a broader approach to microbiology to include environmental bioremediation using microbes, healthy gut microbiome in humans, agricultural microbiology and veterinary microbiology.

Microbial effects on human, plant, animal and environmental health

We study how bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses interact with us and with plants and animals in order to determine how they affect our health, for example by living in our gut and helping us digest our food, or by living in the soil and helping plants access nutrients, or by causing infectious diseases.

Microbial evolution

Microorganisms adapt very rapidly in response to pressures in their environment and are ideal for studying the basics of mutation, selection and diversification. We study how they are currently evolving, for example to become more antibiotic resistant, more pathogenic, or more able to break down toxic substances in the environment.

Antimicrobial drug development

There is an urgent need to develop new and effective antibiotic agents to kill pathogens. We are studying new ways of developing antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal agents that can be used to treat diseases of plants, animals and people.

An assortment of green peas


 

Plant sciences

Our research covers the full range of plant sciences, from molecular biology and plant physiology, though to the interactions of natural and managed plant communities with their biotic and abiotic environments.

Our research outputs cover basic fundamental aspects of plant growth, all the way through to plant-based foods in our diet. With research sites in central Sydney, Camden and Narrabri, and field sites in many other locations, our research involves plants in both protected agriculture and out in the field. 

We have strong relationships with plant-based industries, enabling our research to be funded by and engaged with industry, and our undergraduate and higher degree students to experience plant science in context.

Specialist areas in Plant Sciences include plant genetics and breeding, production of commercial cultivars, plant pathology, agronomy, characterising chemical constituents of plants, bushfire ecology, and plant physiology.

Plant physiology

Our research examines how plants function and interact with their environment. The scope of the research includes the chemical and physical processes associated with life: the key processes of photosynthesis, respiration, gas exchange, water, and nutrient uptake.

Molecular biology, breeding and genetics

We contribute to the global efforts to make plants resilient to more challenging climates, resistant to pests and diseases, and more productive with limited resources. From model species to crop species, we study the fundamentals of plant function and improving nitrogen usage to increase productivity and sustainability of crops. We use both cereals and nitrogen-fixing legumes to understand the molecular, cellular and the whole-plant level mechanisms regulating nitrogen transport, assimilation and tissue redistribution.

Plants as food

Our research concentrates on the quality and sustainability of fruit and vegetable production, and on their microbial safety. Our research is industry focussed and is helping to build the food and agribusiness sectors, enhancing the international reputation of Australian produce and increasing our access to growing export markets.

Plant pathology

Our research is focused on the interaction of cereal hosts and the ‘rust’ fungal pathogens (various Puccinia species), adaptation and evolution of the fungal species, the genetics of resistance and virulence, and breeding of cereal crops resistant to epidemics of these diseases.

Nutrient and water cycles in natural, forestry and agricultural systems

Our research concentrates on the cycles of nutrients, energy and water that affect the ability of farmland, grassland and forests to grow and thrive. The retention (sequestration) and emission of carbon between the soil, vegetation and the atmosphere is a key focus, especially any changes caused by significant natural and manmade events such as bushfires and agricultural management.

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