2 November 2011

Cheese-making and techniques for producing sustainable plastic dollar bills from sugar cane are among the new research projects on which The University of Queensland and industry partners will collaborate from next year.

In the latest round of Australian Research Council Linkage Project grants, UQ had more projects approved and drew more ARC and industry funding for research than any other Australian university.

Industry organisations have committed $12.44 million to 22 projects starting at UQ next year; these will be supported by $6.29 million in ARC Linkage scheme grants.

At 52.4 per cent, UQ had a higher success rate than any other university, compared to a national average of 36.1 per cent.

UQ’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Max Lu, said UQ’s strong industry connections had long ensured that its research was beneficial to society.

“Engagement is one of our highest priorities, and this means UQ researchers’ work is very relevant to current global challenges,” Professor Lu said.

“We are delighted to see that the ARC Linkage Project grants announced today will be supporting so many important and exciting areas of research, involving some key companies and organisations.”

In a boost for the $1 billion Australian cheese industry, Dr Mark Turner of UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Science will work with Dairy Innovation Australia Ltd on “smarter fermentations”.

“Fermentation can be adversely affected by virus (phage) attack or sub-optimal strain mixtures,” said Dr Turner, whose research will receive $333,000 from the ARC over three years.

“The latest genomics and molecular biology approaches will be used to characterise and optimise starter culture strains leading to improved flavour, quality and efficiency in cheese making.”

Meanwhile Dr Jens Kroemer, of UQ’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, will work with Dow Chemical (Australia) Ltd on producing “sustainable dollar notes and other polypropylenes” — from sugar cane.

“Fossil fuels provide us with the essential chemicals for our lifestyle,” said Dr Kroemer, whose project will receive $478,284 in ARC funding over three years.

“The chemical industry recognises limited supply and a need to reduce carbon emissions. Microbes are able to supply green chemicals — eg bio-ethanol — but efficiencies are often low.

“This project will develop microbes for the fermentative production of plastics from cane sugar.”

UQ’s largest Linkage Project announced today was the $576,000 over three years that will fund work at UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience in partnership with Bioproton Pty Ltd, in a project titled Single molecule spectroscopy-guided design of thermostable industrial enzymes.

“The production and engineering of proteins are key methodologies in life sciences,” said lead investigator, Professor Kirill Alexandrov.

“We aim to develop new approaches to accelerate the production and analysis of proteins and to apply them to discover improved proteins for use as feedstock supplements.”

Other Linkage Projects funded at UQ include:

- A multi-level approach to the management of demands and resources to minimise the risk of psychosocial injury in the workplace, led by Associate Professor Nerina Jimmieson. This project aims to identify ways supervisors can effectively manage workplace stress experienced by team members. Expected outcomes include better management of workplace stress and reduction in the number of employees suffering from stress-induced ill-health, thereby reducing workers’ compensation claims for stress and lowering costs. ($322,905 over three years, project in partnership with Safe Work Australia, WorkSafe Victoria, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland)

- The first integrated multimodal assay for the ultrasensitive detection of dengue contamination of blood, led by Professor Matthew Cooper. The project will help ensure safe, continued supply from blood donors, particularly in Queensland where dengue is on the rise. ($490,000 over three years, project in partnership with the Australian Red Cross Blood Service)

- New tools to activate and silence neural circuits, led by Professor Joseph Lynch. Many neurological disorders occur as a result of neuron cell death that is initiated by excessive levels of excitatory activity in central nervous system neurons. This project will develop and validate a new treatment for these disorders that involves silencing excessive neuronal activity using a safe, commonly prescribed drug ($458,933 over three years, in partnership with NuNerve Pty Ltd.)

- Emergence of a virulent strain of West Nile virus causing fatal equine encephalitis in south-eastern Australia, led by Associate Professor Roy Hall. In 2011 a new mosquito-transmitted virus caused a large outbreak of encephalitis in horses. It is related to West Nile virus, known to cause severe disease in humans and horses. The project will develop improved methods for diagnosis and control. ($390,000 over three years, in partnership with the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, the Hunter Valley Equine Research Centre and Queensland Health)

- Multi-scale, two-phase flow in complex coal seam systems, led by Professor Ling Li. The project aims to fill key knowledge gaps that underpin the challenge facing the coal industry and environmental agencies in assessing the impact of coal mining on the surrounding environment, in particular, adjacent river and groundwater systems. ($377,800 over three years, in partnership with Australian Coal Research Ltd and Rio Tinto Coal Pty Ltd).

- Science on the continental shelf: securing our deep-sea biodiversity for the future, led by Associate Professor Greg Skilleter. ($355,000 over three years, in partnership with the Australian Oceanographic Foundation.)

Other UQ research projects funded under Linkage grants announced yesterday are in areas including zoo education initiatives, trademark law, molecular resources, human mobility in relation to education and beyond, new titanium alloys for human implants, fire safety programs in emergency services management, improving the nutritional value of wheat, water treatment processes, algorithmic software development for virtual transport networks, educational policy and practices for marginalised students, culture genomics, and forensic reasoning.

Media: Fiona Cameron, UQ Communications, ph +61 7 3346 7086, 0407 113 342