Monash University, the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) and the Government of Monaco are the key drivers of a global plan for improving conservation in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.
A suite of essential biodiversity variables to help researchers understand how conservation efforts are faring and to assist policymakers in decision-making were identified at the Monaco Assessment II: Implementation meeting.
“We also identified several ways we could move conservation forward in the region – such as better regional biosecurity,” says co-convener Professor Steven Chown, of Monash University’s School of Biological Sciences, and the president of SCAR.
The meeting was a follow-up to the historic Monaco Assessment of 2015, in which experts, led by Monash, concluded that the biodiversity outlook for Antarctica and the Southern Ocean was little better than that for the rest of the globe. They also concluded that much more could be done to improve the situation in the region.
“The Monaco Assessment II meeting has shown just how these improvements can be delivered,” Professor Chown says.
Monash co-convenor Professor Melodie McGeoch, also from the School of Biological Sciences, says the work will leave a substantial legacy. “We have identified practical actions to improve the status of biodiversity in the region, and a set of tools that policymakers can use to easily measure the success of their actions.”
A battery-powered diagnostic tool designed to identify people who carry malaria but show no symptoms could revolutionise the fight against the disease. A Monash team recently visited remote areas of Laos to trial the use of infrared spectroscopy to detect chemical signatures unique to the malaria parasite.
Associate Professor Bayden Wood, the director of the Monash Centre for Biospectroscopy (MCFb), says asymptomatic carriers of malaria are
a source of re-infection in communities.
Malaria is the No.1 killer of people worldwide, with one million dying each year and approximately 500 million people contracting the disease. Children under five are most at risk. “The reason children are getting sick all the time is that asymptomatic carriers are present in the village,” he says. “You need to stop the reservoir in a community.”
In collaboration with the Institut Pasteur du Laos, the field trial led by Monash’s Dr Anja Rüether spent three weeks looking at more than 595 patients. “Around 30 to 40 were asymptomatic carriers,” Dr Wood says. “It was the first trial in a remote village setting. It showed us that it really is the first point of cure.”
Net widens to eliminate dengue
Monash University’s Eliminate Dengue Program (EDP) has been awarded the top-ranking program grant at the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Research Excellence Awards, as it scales up its international efforts to stop the spread of harmful mosquito-borne diseases.
EDP was selected after meeting the highest national and international standards for its innovative technology.
It has developed the use of Wolbachia, a naturally occurring bacteria, to reduce transmission of dengue, chikungunya and Zika.
Pioneered by Australian scientists led by program director Professor Scott O’Neill, the not-for-profit research collaboration is applying its technology in Brazil, Colombia, Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam and India.
Long-term monitoring has shown that when a high proportion of mosquitoes in an area carry Wolbachia, local disease transmission has stopped.
The program recently was expanded to Sri Lanka, with the help of the Australian Government’s InnovationXchange. “Dengue outbreaks place a significant burden on communities and local health systems,” Professor O’Neill says. EDP is also working to make its self-sustaining Wolbachia method more affordable for at-risk communities. targeting a cost of US$1 per person.
“As a sustainable, long-term approach, we believe our Wolbachia method has the potential to greatly reduce the global burden of mosquito-borne diseases,” Professor O’Neill added.
GOTO the stars
A new telescope for detecting optical signatures of gravitational waves has launched partly thanks to funding from the Monash Warwick Alliance.
Built and operated by an international research collaboration, the Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) is based at the University of Warwick’s astronomical facility in the Canary Islands. Its ability to detect optical signatures of gravitational waves signals a new era in astrophysics, allowing astronomers to probe the distant universe and better understand the nature of gravity.
Monash University principal investigator Dr Duncan Galloway, from the School of Physics and Astronomy, says the project is significant for the Monash Centre for Astrophysics.
“We’ve invested strongly in gravitational wave astronomy over the last few years, leading up to the first detection announced last year, and the telescope project represents a fundamentally new observational opportunity.”
BioCurate CEO eyes future
After working in the US for many years, Dr Glenn Begley had no intention of returning to his native Australia to live. That was until the launch last year of BioCurate, the A$80 million venture between Monash University and the University of Melbourne, and supported by the Victorian Government.
As the inaugural CEO of BioCurate Pty Ltd, Dr Begley says what is striking is the goodwill between the two universities on their groundbreaking alliance.
“The potential is enormous. The two universities together are in the top 10 in half a dozen areas,” he says.
An outstanding industry leader with exceptional national and global experience in successfully propelling important biomedical discoveries out of the lab and into the market, Dr Begley is a distinguished clinical haematologist and medical oncologist, who most recently was the chief scientific officer of Californian biotech company Akriveia Therapeutics.
His first task will be to sift through 35 projects presented to BioCurate by the researchers.
“The diversity of projects is amazing. They range from immunology to Alzheimer’s to autoimmune disease, and my task will be to meet with them and work out which ones BioCurate can actively support,” he says. “What they have in common is excellent science.”
Sandfly-spread parasite on notice
Funding worth A$1 million from the Australia–India Strategic Research fund has been awarded to a coalition of researchers from Monash University, the University of Melbourne and the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology to combat the deadly parasitic disease Leishmaniasis.
Spread by sandfly bite, the Leishmania parasite is endemic to almost 90 countries. It kills up to 50,000 people annually but has largely been neglected by drug developers.
“Current drugs have nasty side effects or they’re expensive,” says Professor Jonathan Baell of the Monash Institute of Pharmaceutical Sciences (MIPS).
The project will develop a treatment that is safe, cheap and effective, drawing on advanced medicinal chemistry and lead optimisation skills from MIPS, and on the capabilities of the Australian Translational Medicinal Chemistry Facility and the Centre for Drug Candidate Optimisation, both based at Monash University.
Monash University earth scientists and technology have played a key role in the discovery of a mineral in far-east Russia. Nataliyamalikite was found in the Kamchatka Peninsula, one of the world’s most active volcano zones and last great wildernesses.
An interesting feature of Nataliyamalikite is the presence of thallium, a highly poisonous heavy metal. “It’s in a very strange and unstable and highly toxic matrix, which causes all sorts of problems for the machines in identifying it,” says Professor Jöel Brugger of the Monash School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment.
Using state-of-the-art sample preparation at the Monash Centre for Electron Microscopy and the unique capabilities of the Australian Synchrotron to obtain the crystal structure, the Monash team revealed “the full genome, as it were” of the new mineral.