26 October 2009

University of Queensland research has received a $44 million boost, thanks to funding announced by the Federal Government today.

Investigating how the brain produces speech, exploring police and ethnic group interactions and developing new ways of controlling insect pests are just some projects that were successful under the latest Australian Research Council funding round, in which UQ topped the state and was placed third nationally.

Almost $37 million was awarded for 91 projects under the Discovery Projects scheme, a Federal Government initiative aimed at fostering excellence in fundamental research.

Reinforcing UQ’s strong links with industry, $7 million was awarded for 19 projects under the Linkage Projects scheme, which is aimed at encouraging collaborative research between universities, industry and other organisations. A further $15 million will come from industry partners.

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Max Lu congratulated UQ’s ARC funding recipients, whose achievements have confirmed the University’s position as one of Australia’s leading research-intensive universities.

“UQ has again been successful in this nationally competitive funding round, with the funded projects representing the breadth and depth of research conducted at the University,” Professor Lu said.

“UQ research is not only of the highest academic quality, but also carries significant commercial relevance, as highlighted by our third-place result in both the Discovery Projects and Linkage Projects schemes.”

UQ's success rate was above the national average in both schemes.

Professor Kirill Alexandrov from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience received UQ’s largest Discovery Projects grant - $1.5 million to study posttranslational modifications of proteins critical for a multitude of normal cellular functions.

“Posttranslational lipidation of proteins play a key role in transport of materials and information in eukaryotic cells,” Professor Alexandrov said.

“The ultimate aim of this project is to understand the mechanisms of regulation of protein prenylation and exploit for protein modification and analysis.”

Professor Alexandrov also received a $435,000 ARC Linkage Projects grant to develop a faster, more efficient system of recombining proteins.

“Recombinant proteins are used as vaccines, drugs and research tools, as well as food and detergent additives, comprising an AUD$100 billion international market,” Professor Alexandrov said.

“Their production is laborious, expensive and time-consuming, so our project aims to develop a new technology that will make protein production rapid, cheap and scalable. “This will bring numerous economic benefits by accelerating the rate of discovery and pharmaceutical development.”

Funded UQ Discovery projects also included:

Associate Professor Rick Sturm from UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience will lead a $429,000 project to investigate variations in the genes that determine human skin pigmentation and are likely to be associated with skin cancer risk.

“Our research program will form the basis of future diagnostics based on the major genes that determine a person’s skin type,” Dr Sturm said.

“A better understanding of the genetic basis of UV-sensitive skin types will greatly enhance the targeting of skin cancer prevention campaigns.”

Professor Suresh Bhatia and colleagues from UQ’s School of Chemical Engineering and the University of Leipzig, Germany, have received $1 million to advance and validate a novel theory for transport of fluid mixtures in nanoconfined spaces, being developed by Professor Bhatia.

“This research will develop a key tool facilitating the development of emerging nanotechnologies,” Professor Bhatia said.

“The research involves ground breaking theoretical developments, with validation by simulation and experiments, on transport of various gases and their mixtures in key nanomaterials, and will lead to a powerful new approach for prediction of multicomponent transport coefficients.”

Professor Gillian Whitlock, of UQ’s School of English, Media Studies and Art History, received $518,000 to study letters exchanged between asylum seekers and activists between 2001-2005.

Professor Whitlock said the letters were “a powerful repository of cross cultural exchange and political activism in Australia this century, and they offer unique insights into debates about citizenship and national identity in the very recent past”.

“When read as a distinctive genre of life narrative, these letters and the epistolary communities which they engender are important new resources in current scholarship on human rights and testimony,” Professor Whitlock said.

“This project will make a vital and distinctive Australian contribution to debates about representations of the human and the inhuman in contemporary literature.”

Funded UQ Linkage projects also included:

Professor Craig Franklin, from the School of Biological Sciences, will use his $345,000 grant to investigate the movement patterns and behavioural strategies of Estuarine Crocodiles.

This long-term study will utilise the latest advancement in underwater acoustic technology to monitor the behavioural and physiological strategies used by estuarine crocodiles in occupying critical habitats, providing vital information for resource managers and policy makers.

• The impact of reforestation on the mitigation of climate extremes in eastern Australia resulting from global warming will be the focus of a project led by Dr Clive McAlpine, which received $385,000.

Successful implementation of the research findings will lead to an increased ability of regional landscapes to buffer against a more extreme future climate driven by increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.

Media: Penny Robinson at UQ Communications (07 3365 9723, penny.robinson@uq.edu.au)