Dear <<First Name>>,

Welcome to the first edition of our new, quarterly newsletter!

The last three months have seen much activity around the EMBL Australia network. Firstly, I’m pleased to announce that following interviews late last year, we have successfully appointed a new EMBL Australia group leader, Dr Harald Janovjak, to the Victorian node in the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute. He will join us later this year, which will bring the total number of EMBL Australia group leaders at Monash University to five. In addition, we expect to shortly announce the establishment of two new state nodes, which will initially engage a further three EMBL Australia group leaders. This is a significant step towards our target of 20 EMBL Australia group leaders nationwide.

Secondly, planning is well underway for the two-week PhD course, which will be held in July. A huge thank you to our group leaders, Edwina McGlinn, Maté Biro, Chen Davidovich and Max Cryle, who have put enormous effort into organising this event. I would also like to highlight the EMBL Alumni event, which will be held during VIVID Sydney at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney on 9 June.

Finally, I would like to welcome two new members of our EMBL Australia team – Emily Purcell has joined us to further develop our web and media presence, and Paul Jones as the Student Programs Coordinator.

I hope you enjoy our newsletter, and I also look forward to meeting with many of you at our upcoming events.


James Whisstock 
EMBL Australia Scientific Head

In this newsletter:

Ancient DNA expert Professor Alan Cooper to give public address at the EMBL Australia PhD Course on 12 July 2017

Professor Alan Cooper, the 2016 South Australian Scientist of the Year and prominent ancient DNA researcher, will give a plenary address to the students at our PhD Course in July. But rather than keep him all to ourselves, we will be opening the address to the public.

An ARC Laureate Fellow, Prof. Cooper’s work regularly features in the highest profile journals and global media – most recently for leading research that proved, through DNA analysis of hair samples, that indigenous Australians descended from one founding population, which arrived on the continent 50,000 years ago.

By creating detailed pictures of historical climate change, human evolutions, and disease, Prof. Cooper’s work is critical to Australia’s future.

He has led many large international multi-disciplinary studies, as well as detailing the first genome of an extinct species and reconstructing the genomic history of Europe. Specialising in human evolution, climate change, megafaunal extinctions, evolution of the human microbiome, molecular clocks, genomics, extinct species, mammal and avian evolution and bioinformatics, Prof. Cooper has pioneered new major areas of research. He is also the founder and director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide, an internationally leading research centre that studies issues ranging from Aboriginal genetic heritage to the impacts of environmental change and the evolution of human diseases.

If you’re interested in attending the presentation by Prof. Cooper’s on his highly acclaimed research, register here for the free event on 12 July 2017 at 4pm at Monash University’s Clayton Campus.

Swiss researcher Dr Harald Janovjak announced as a new EMBL Australia group leader

His passion for regenerative medicine has seen him work all over the world and now Dr Harald Janovjak is bringing his expertise to EMBL Australia as a group leader based at the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute at Monash University either later this year or in early 2018.

Currently an Assistant Professor in Synthetic Biology at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria), Dr Janovjak began his tertiary education in his hometown of Basel, Switzerland, before heading to Dresden, Germany to undertake his Honours degree and PhD in biology, followed by The University of California, Berkeley, for post-doctoral training. Now, Australia is calling.

His team's innovative research uses optogenetics – a biological technique involving the use of light to control cells in living tissue that has been genetically modified to express light-sensitive ion channels. The focus of his work in tissue regeneration is an area in which existing research methods have reached significant obstacles.

Dr Janovjak’s research lies at the interface of synthetic biology and physiology, with a focus on understanding and manipulating how cells talk to each other in health and disease. One of the major challenges lies in manipulating the communication between cells in situ and targeting selected cells or only cells at certain stages of development.

Dr Janovjak and his team re-engineer the cell’s signalling machinery (in particular, membrane receptors) so they can control it non-invasively and with the utmost precision, applying their research to problems in physiology in cell, tissue and animal models.

Dr Janovjak’s goal is to better understand how the balance of cell death and cell growth is regulated and to ultimately be able to control it in potentially fatal disorders, such as cancer (where excessive cell growth is a hallmark) and degenerative diseases (in which cell death features).

We chatted to Dr Janovjak about his work and recent appointment as an EMBL Australia group leader.

Read the full interview on the EMBL website.

Join EMBL for their first alumni event to be held in Australia

Creating first-class networks of scientific leaders is just one advantage of being part of EMBL and its member and associate member states. And now, for the first time, an EMBL alumni event will bring together like-minded scientists and their networks in Australia.

Jointly hosted by EMBL and the Garvan Institute, the free event aims to strengthen ties and highlight collaboration and resource opportunities between EMBL, their alumni and their networks in Australia.

The program – scheduled around the dates of the inspiring VizbiPlus and VIZBI conference, as well as Vivid Sydney, the world’s largest festival of light, music and ideas – includes a series of short and informal talks, an exclusive preview to VIZBI, a drinks reception and the opportunity for dinner (at your own cost).

Speakers include:  

  • John Mattick – Executive Director, Garvan Institute;
  • ​Silke Schumacher – Director of International Relations, EMBL;
  • James Whisstock – Scientific Head, EMBL Australia Partnership & NHMRC Senior Principal Research Fellow, Monash University;
  • Katharina Gaus – Head of EMBL Australia Partnership Node in Single Molecule Science & NHMRC Senior Research Fellow, University of New South Wales; and
  • A cross-section of EMBL alumni.

For more information and to register your attendance by 12th May, please visit the event site.

You can also view the event on the EMBL website. 

EMBL’s Head of Electron Microscopy Core Facility, Dr Yannick Schwab, will present at EMBL Australia’s PhD Course

Dr Yannick Schwab, team leader and head of electron microscopy core facility at EMBL, will travel from EMBL Heidelberg to join us and 60 first and second-year PhD students at the EMBL Australia PhD Course in July at Monash University. The distinguished researcher, who has more than 40 peer-reviewed articles to his name, will present on his innovative work and his passion for electron microscopy as part of the two-week course.

Dr Schwab – whose team develops tools for the 3D correlation of data generated by fluorescence imaging and by electron microscopy – says he’s thrilled to be part of the course. “One of the things I’m most looking forward to is sharing the collaborative and community spirit that is unique to EMBL,” he says. “My mission for this visit is to share my passion to teach, as well as share my passion for electron microscopy, particularly in the area of method development in correlative light and electron microscopy. I really hope to inspire some students!”

Read more about Dr Schwab’s work and visit to Australia here.

Our researchers in print

Gaus group researchers have developed a sensor to measure membrane charges in live cells

Yuanqing (Alex) Ma, a PhD student in EMBL Australia’s Gaus Group is the lead author on a paper published in Nature Biotechnology last month.

Alex Ma, Katharina Gaus and their colleagues have developed a fluorescence membrane charge sensor (MCS) that reports changes in electrostatic interactions at the inner leaflet of the plasma membrane in live cells.

Ma and colleagues did this by building a Förster resonance energy transfer (FRET) sensor that rapidly and reversible report changes in membrane charges. Membrane charge control electrostatic interactions between proteins  and the lipids in the membrane.

These reversible interactions are critical in protein trafficking and signalling. The research team has applied the sensor to T-cell biology, and use it to identify charged membrane domains in the immunological synapse, allowing us to better understand how T-cell signalling begins and is regulated. Read the full article here.

The Davidovich group has further enhanced our knowledge on how genes are regulated

In collaboration with an assembly of highly recognised international scientists, EMBL Australia group leader Chen Davidovich and Nobel Laureate Thomas Cech (Howard Hughes Medical Institute and University of Colorado at Boulder) have discovered how a gene-suppressing enzyme recognises genes product.

One of these enzymes formed by several proteins, called Polycomb Repressive Complex 2 (PCR2), is essential to prevent thousands of inactive genes from switching on. By doing so, PRC2 regulates genes within a healthy human cell. Problems with PRC2 expression and function can lead to cancer formation or progression. Accordingly, there has been a large effort to understand how PRC2 works and how we can target it in order to treat cancer. It has been long known that PRC2 can bind to RNA that emerges from active gents, but it was not known how PRC2 recognises these RNA molecules.

In particular, the researchers discovered how PRC2 interacts and binds to specific sites of RNA. They showed that specific inhibitors that bind to RNAs, normally recognised by PRC2, can block PRC2-RNA interactions in-vitro. This new discovery has the potential to lead to new cancer treatments. The group has added to the knowledge around how enzymes work to switch genes on and off.

Read the full article here.

Student Opportunities

Financial support available for PhD students to attend the 19th EMBL PhD Symposium in Heidelberg

EMBL Australia will again offer ten travel grants of up to $3,000 for PhD students to attend the EMBL PhD Symposium in Heidelberg, Germany. The theme for the symposium, to be held on 19 - 21 October, is ‘Bridging the Gaps: Interdisciplinary Approaches in Life Sciences’. Online registration opens soon. Find more information here.

Upcoming events

Click on the events to read more.

  • ABACBS 2017 will be held in Adelaide at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) on 13 - 15 November.

  • The 19th EMBL PhD Symposium will be held at EMBL in Heidelberg, Germany between 19-21 October. Australian PhD students can apply for an EMBL Australia travel grant to attend the symposium.

  • The EMBL Australia Postgraduate Symposium will be held at the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, between 29 November and 1 December.

Job opportunities

Please feel free to forward on the monthly EMBL Australia newsletter to colleagues who may like to subscribe in order to keep up-to-date with EMBL Australia events, news and opportunities throughout the year.
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