10 December 1998

Distinguished plant physiologist to receive honorary doctorate at ceremony

Eminent plant physiologist Dr Cathryn Mittelheuser will be part of a University of Queensland "first" when she receives an honorary Doctor of Philosophy at a graduation ceremony on December 14 at 6.15pm.

Dr Mittelhauser will be recognised for her contribution to the community and to the University.

Her sister, Dr Margaret Mittelheuser, received an honorary Doctor of Philosophy from the University two years ago for her contribution to stockbroking, education and the University.

It will be the first time that two sisters have each been awarded an honorary Doctor of Philosophy from the University, and is thought to be the first time this has happened in any Australian university.

Dr Margaret Mittelheuser will be in the academic procession at the ceremony, and will be seated on the main stage at Mayne Hall.

Dr Cathryn Mittelheuser will also be the guest speaker at the ceremony.

Graduands from the faculties of Biological and Chemical Sciences and Engineering, Physical Sciences and Architecture will receive their degrees at 4pm and 6.15pm in Mayne Hall.

Dr Mittelheuser, who graduated from the University in 1968 with a bachelor of science (first class honours) and a University Medal, was awarded a CSIRO post doctoral fellowship from 1971 to 1976.

After completing her science degree and PhD she was a senior research fellow (1971-76) and acting lecturer in third year cell physiology (1975-76) in the Botany Department.

She has 13 publications in scientific books and journals. Her first publication, which was in Nature in 1969, resulted in world-wide interest and is still referred to in scientific papers.

Dr Mittelheuser has been active in the Lyceum Club Brisbane being a former president and is currently vice-president of the International Association of Lyceum Clubs, a position she has held for the past six years.

She is also chair of the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society Brisbane and a member of the University of Queensland Alumni Association.

Dr Mittelheuser is an authority on books relating to Antarctica.

o Garvan Institute of Medical Research executive director and Professor of Medicine and Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of New South Wales Professor John Shine will be the guest speaker at the 4pm ceremony .

Professor Shine (telephone 02 9295 8120) obtained his PhD in biochemistry from the Australian National University (ANU) in 1975. During his studies, he discovered the sequences in ribosomal RNA (now listed in biology text books as the "Shine-Dalgarno" sequence) responsible for the initiation and termination of protein synthesis.

He was awarded a CSIRO Postdoctoral Scholarship and took up an appointment in the Biochemistry and Biophysics Department at the University of California.. During 1975-78, he was instrumental in the development of many genetic engineering techniques. He was a central figure in the cloning of the insulin and growth hormone genes and was the first person to clone a human hormone gene.

Professor Shine returned to Australia as a research fellow in the Research School of Biological Sciences at the ANU in 1978 where he continued his gene cloning work culminating in the cloning of the human renin gene. This achievement paved the way for the development of renin inhibitors, a new class of drugs for controlling blood pressure.

In 1980, he was awarded the Boehringer-Mannheim Medal by the Australian Biochemical Society and in 1982, the Gottschalk Medal for distinguished research in biological sciences by the Australian Academy of Science. He was elected a Fellow of the Academy in 1994 and made an Officer in the Order of Australia in 1996.

In 1986, he was appointed president of a newly formed biotech company, California Biotechnology Inc, guiding it from a staff of 15 scientists in 1984 to more than 200 scientists by 1987.. During this period, Cal Bio (now Scios) developed several important new therapeutics including treatments for congestive heart failure, infant respiratory distress syndrome, and burns and general wound healing agents.

His current research interests are centred on the application of molecular genetics to an understanding of the generation of functional diversity in the nervous system.
o A University of Queensland student's extraction of DNA from human bones submerged in the sea for more than 200 years is believed to be a world-first. Anatomical Sciences Department student Dayman Steptoe will receive his bachelor of science honours degree for the work at today's ceremony. Mr Steptoe painstakingly reconstructed three skeletons from more than 200 bones and bone fragments recovered by Queensland Museum archaeologists from the HMS Pandora wreck 120kms east of Cape York.
The DNA extraction greatly advances forensic knowledge and techniques for the treatment and analysis of bones submerged in tropical marine environments. Using techniques from the particular branch of forensic science known as forensic osteology, Mr Steptoe also checked the bones for markers identifying age, sex, race and height. From the skeletal remains, Mr Steptoe has established many interesting facts about the men as well as the time in which they lived.
He has estimated their ages at approximately 17, 22 and 28 as well as their heights at around 168cm, 165cm and 166cm respectively. "Two of the men were probably smokers and/or tea-drinkers due to their stained teeth, one of the three had developed spina bifida early in life, another had rickets, and the third likely suffered from syphilis. All had poor dental hygiene," Mr Steptoe said.HMS Pandora is best known as the frigate the British Admiralty sent to the South Pacific to search for and capture the Bounty and bring to justice the mutineers who had seized the vessel and cast adrift Captain William Bligh with 18 loyal crew. Mr Steptoe can be contacted on telephone 0414 763599 or 07 3371 3618 or email steppie@scientist.com

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