CPHMVS Research Molecular & Cell Biology

Molecular & Cell Biology Research

Molecular & Cell Biology is a research-intensive department within the College of Public Health, Medical & Veterinary Sciences.

Research is conducted into the molecular bases of health and disease in a range of experimental model systems and in real-world applications, such as evolutionary biology, molecular ecology and clinical research.  Many of the laboratories in the Department have a special interest in human disease, including autoimmunity, allergy, cancer and immunodiagnostics.

Research Groups

The overall aim of the Molecular & Cell Biology's Research Groups are to use a variety of genetic models, including staghorn coral, fruit fly and mice, to study human disease from an evolutionary perspective. The research performed in the Department enhances our understanding of the processes involved in cancer, birth defects, immune compromised states and autoimmune disease. As the Department has grown, it has become a focus of resources and expertise in genetics for the University and the region. The member laboratories now cover a much broader range of applications of genetics and genomics, including the science of coral reef management and biotechnological applications.

The Bioinformatics Group focused directly on the analysis of large genomic, transcriptomic and proteomic data sets. Lead by Dr Ira Cooke, who has recently developed an interest in the transcriptomics and proteomic analyses of venom, and has developed a lecture series in bioinformatics. He is also a contributor to the Galaxy bioinformatics project, which aims to make many bioinformatics tools accessible to all biologists.

The Biotechnology Group clones and expresses biological products of potential utility and is developing genetic recombinant plant crops with improved disease resistance and greater yields. Prof Burnell chaired the Combio 2011 Organising Committee for the annual meeting of the Australian Society of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The Australian Society of Plant Scientists and the Australian and New Zealand Society for Cell Biology and Development.

In Australia hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the fastest growing malignancy in terms of incidence and has a dismal survival rate of 16% after 5 years. While little is known about the molecular events that lead to obesity-driven HCC, a chief culprit is the increased consumption of the carbohydrates glucose and fructose found in western diets.

The Cancer Metabolism GroupLead By Dr Lionel Hebbard aims to investigate the role of fructose in promoting tumour cell survival, cancer stem cell function and aggressive behaviour

The Coral Genomics Group is studying a local Acropora (staghorn coral) as a model system, in order to investigate issues central to the evolution of animal genomes and developmental mechanisms. The laboratory is a member of the world leading ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and lead by Professor David Miller.

Dr Margaret Jordan completed her PhD on the dissection of genes involved in autoimmune diseases at James Cook University. She has >18 years of experience in the immunogenetics of autoimmunity and 11.5 years as a Medical Scientist in Cytogenetics.

Her current work is on the genetics of Multiple Sclerosis, where she has become proficient in the bioinformatics analysis and interpretation of large data sets. This work includes both patient samples and an animal model of disease. She also has extensive experience in both cellular and molecular techniques and with mouse models of autoimmune diseases, including congenic dissection of genetic linkage regions, gene expression microarray analyses, QPCR and sequencing.

Previous work included Genetic Linkage Projects to identify genes involved in SLE, Gastritis and NKT cells. She has developed transgenic and knockout mouse models of disease to confirm the function of identified genes. She is the current Director of Research for Molecular & Cell Biology and has co-ordinated the Honours Program since 2013.

Her work is funded by NHMRC, MS Research Australia and the Lions Club.

The Medical Genomics Group is working to determine the genetic causes of autoimmune diseases using both cellular and genetic techniques. Current projects study: the genetics of autoimmune diabetes, multiple sclerosis, gastritis and lupus in mice; the effects of mycobacteria on autoimmune diseases; and the role of immunoregulatory NKT cells in childhood diabetes. A major program that has emerged over the last two years is a genomic study of the causes of Multiple Sclerosis. This program is currently funded by ARC and the Lions Clubs and involves a collaboration between the Royal Melbourne Hospital, The University of Melbourne, the Menzies Research Institute and the Centre. The lab is funded by the NHMRC, ARC and the Lions Clubs.

The Medical Genomics Group Is lead by the Head of Molecular & Cell Biology, Professor Alan Baxter

The Microbial Pathogens Group's research explores the virulence mechanisms of microbial pathogens, by studying the role of proteins and small molecules in the onset of infectious disease. Research expertise includes the functional characterisation of proteins (protein expression, bioassays, gene knock outs, enzymology, transcript analysis) and analysis of small molecules (HPLC, MS, NMR).

A current focus of the Dr Roberts’ work is exploring the virulence factors of the fungal pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, while recent projects include characterisation of thiol-dependent antibiotic resistance and oxidative stress protection in Staphylococcus aureus.

The Molecular Characterisation Group's is headed by Professor Norelle Daly, who's research involves exploring the potential of peptides as drug candidates for therapeutic applications. Peptides are of significant interest in drug design as they can be highly potent and specific for a range of different drug targets. However, the inherent poor stability of peptides limits their application.

Their research aims to overcome this limitation by using tightly folded scaffolds, such as those found in the venom of spiders, cone snails and scorpions, to improve stability. In addition, plants are a rich source of highly stable peptides including backbone cyclic peptides from the coffee and sunflower families.

It is anticipated that these studies will significantly expand the potential of peptides as therapeutics. In particular, peptide-based drug leads for cancer and inflammatory diseases are being explored because of the enormous impact they have on health care in Australia and the urgent need for more effective treatments.

The Molecular Immunology Group focuses on the health effects of natural and recombinant seafood proteins, understanding allergic reactions to seafood reactions at molecular and cellular levels, the molecular modification of allergenic proteins in commercial seafood processing, and the development of improved and novel diagnostic approaches for seafood allergies. The group lead by Professor Andreas Lopata and is funded by the NHMRC, the Advanced manufacturing CRC and the Australian Biological Resource Study.

The Supramolecular Biology Group (SBG) focus is to study protein-ligand interactions and in particular Protein-DNA interactions. The discovery and characterization of novel protein interactions can lead to the production of new molecular tools with applications in the field of bio- and nanotechnology (e.g. molecular diagnostics, drug discovery, functional genomics and proteomics). The SBG is currently developing innovative methods for the discovery, characterization and quantification of such interactions as well as novel ultrasensitive diagnostics.

Headed by A/Prof Patrick Schaeffer his research undertaken in the SBG is  multidisciplinary and spans across the disciplines of Biology, Biochemistry and Chemistry.

The Symbiosis Genomics Group focuses on linking changes in the gene expression of the dinoflagellate Symbiodinium to physiological alterations of the algae and the intact coral holobiont (its host), and subsequent effects on ecology. Research of this type can broadly be called ecological genomics. In particular, this group is interested in how dinoflagellates respond to human induced stress, such as climate change, what effects these changes have on the coral host and how the responses of the alga affect coral reefs.

Lead By A/Prof Bill Leggat, the laboratory is a member of the world leading ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

Research Centres

Academic staff of Molecular & Cell Biology are members of the following research centres:

The Centre for Molecular Therapeutics was created to provide a unique framework for a diverse range of groups to collaborate on cross-disciplinary projects. The Centre provides an innovative approach to the development of compounds of therapeutic potential under its five key programs which each comprise their own project leader/s and team consisting of project researchers and early career researchers.

The Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture (CSTFA) brings together a multidisciplinary team organised into 3 main Research Themes: Aquatic food security and safety, novel aquatic products and applications, and human dimensions of aquatic resources and production.

The Centre for Tropical Bioinformatics and Molecular Biology (CTBMB) is based at James Cook University, adjacent to the World Heritage-listed Daintree Rainforest and the iconic Great Barrier Reef. James Cook University is uniquely positioned to become a leader in tropical bioinformatics research. With 50% of the world’s population predicted to live in the tropics by 2050, there are numerous untapped opportunities to utilise bioinformatics research to develop novel applications to improve the health and security of the soon to be majority of the world’s population.

The Centre brings together researchers across James Cook University with national and international experts to ensure appropriate high throughput molecular data and analysis is being incorporating into projects which are improving the quality of life for people residing in the tropics. CTBMB aims to increase research efficiency by reducing redundancy via the coordination of research efforts across this dynamic field of research.

Research Staff

For a particular researcher, see the Molecular and Cell Biology staff list.

Recent Publications

Browse through the Molecular & Cell Biology Research Online to see a full list of published research projects.