3 August 2012

A team of UQ psychiatric genetic researchers and an animal welfare researcher are among the finalists in the 2012 Australian Museum Eureka Prizes.

The prizes are a celebration of Australian science at its best, and will be announced on August 28, 2012.

Professor Clive Phillips from The University of Queensland Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics is a finalist in the category for Scientific Research that Contributes to Animal Protection.

A team led by Professor Peter Visscher from the UQ Diamantina Institute has been named a finalist in the category of Scientific Research.

The team includes Dr Sang Hong Lee and Associate Professor Naomi Wray from the UQ Queensland Brain Institute, Dr Jian Yan from the UQ Diamantina Institute and Professor Michael Goddard from The University of Melbourne.

The team has been recognised for their work in development and application of elegant statistical methods to explain differences in complex traits, such as height and schizophrenia, among individuals.

Associate Professor Naomi Wray (QBI) says the team’s research sheds new light on the field of psychiatric genetics.

“Our work in psychiatric genetics has been paradigm-shifting, showing that a substantial proportion of differences in risk between people is due to the cumulative effects of many genes, each with a small effect,” she said.

“Not only do our results inform about the nature of genetic risk factors for disease, they also have implications for translation.”

The research has shown that the cumulative effect of many genes, each with a tiny effect on the human trait, such as height, eye colour or common diseases, can account for a large fraction of the heritability.

Their findings have important implications across a wide range of fields, including genomic medicine, agriculture and evolutionary biology. It is applicable across a wide range of complex traits, from human height and cognitive function to schizophrenia and other diseases.

The team used sophisticated statistical techniques, commonly used in livestock genetics, and adapted them to answer the question of heritability for human traits.

Professor Visscher says the method takes advantage of the idea that humans are are all related to each other, “if you go back far enough”, and uses DNA data to estimate those relationships.

Professor Visscher said the team was honoured to be named a finalist in the Eureka Prizes.

“This is a form of recognition quite different from the usual one of publication of peer reviewed scientific papers,” he said.

"Although our team comprises five researchers, the work we did could not have been done without the collaboration of hundreds of researchers throughout the world who amassed the kinds of data we have used in our research."

Professor Clive Phillips, from the UQ Centre for Animal Welfare and Ethics, is a finalist in the category for Scientific Research that Contributes to Animal Protection.

Professor Phillips conducts research that improves animal welfare and increases understanding of attitudes towards animals.

“The welfare of animals is increasingly the subject of scientific research, and UQ has a significant team of scientists that I am fortunate to be part of, devoted to investigating ways of improving the way in which we look after animals,” he said.

His research covers farm, captive wild and companion animals. Key areas include the export of livestock from Australia, reducing under-nutrition in rangeland animals, improving conditions for captive wildlife and increasing respect for animals.

The Eureka Prizes are presented annually and reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership and commercialisation, school science and science journalism and communication.


Caroline Davy, UQ Diamantina Institute, 07 3176 6623 or c.davy@uq.edu.au

Janelle Kirkland, UQ Communications, 07 3346 0561 or j.kirkland@uq.edu.au