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Eureka! JCU scores with dengue and dingoes

A JCU medical entomologist is part of a team that has won an Australian Museum Eureka Prize for his work into dengue fever.

Eureka! JCU scores with dengue and dingoes

First published September 5, 2013

A James Cook University medical entomologist is part of a team that has won an Australian Museum Eureka Prize for his work into dengue fever.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes were announced at a gala dinner in Canberra last night in front of 700 science, government, cultural and media leaders.

Established in 1990 and presented annually by the Australian Museum, the Eureka Prizes reward excellence in the fields of research and innovation, leadership and commercialisation, school science and science journalism and communication.

The Eliminate Dengue project, led by Scott O'Neill from Monash University, won the Research in Infectious Diseases Award.

Professor Scott Ritchie, based at JCU in Cairns, was the principal investigator in the winning team.

Professor Ritchie said the research aimed to stop the spread of the disease, using biotechnology techniques taken from fruit flies. He said dengue was becoming a bigger problem in much of the tropics.

“I have been a principal investigator in the Eliminate Dengue program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation since its inception in 2005,” he said.

“This innovative project utilises the bacterium Wolbachia to prevent the dengue vector Aedes aegypti from transmitting dengue viruses.

“This partnership has already demonstrated that the parasite can effectively work in the laboratory and in semi-field cages.”

Professor Ritchie said the team was currently evaluating open field releases of Wolbachia-infected Ae, aegypti mosquitoes in Cairns.

Also awarded at the ceremony was JCU Adjunct Lecturer Arian Wallach, as part of a team led by former JCU Professor Professor Chris Johnson, who is now at the University of Tasmania.

The project won the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Eureka Prize for Environmental Research for their research into dingoes.

Dr Wallach is an Ecologist at Evelyn Downs Station near Coober Pedy, 850km north of Adelaide in South Australia.

Dr Wallach said far from being vermin, Australia’s dingoes sustained biodiversity and could help land managers control invasive species.

“Dingoes are key elements in the struggle to reduce damage caused by kangaroos, foxes and feral cats, “ she said.

“Dingoes now occupy the top predator role once filled by the Tasmanian tiger or thylacine. They have become a lynchpin of the ecosystem, important to the health of other animals and plants.”

Dr Wallach’s team also included Dr Michael Letnic of the University of New South Wales, Dr Euan Ritchie of Deakin University, and Adam O'Neill at Evelyn Downs Station.

As well as Professors O’Neill and Ritchie, the 2013 Australian Infectious Diseases Research Centre Eureka Prize for Infectious Diseases Research team involved Professor Ary Hoffmann, University of Melbourne, Dr Elizabeth McGraw, Monash University, Dr Luciano Moreira, Oswaldo Cruz Foundation and Professor Brian Kay, Queensland Institute of Medical Research.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes - background

  • Established in 1990 to reward outstanding achievements in Australian science and science communication.

  • Australia's most comprehensive national science awards.

  • A unique co-operative partnership between government, education and research institutions, private sector companies, organisations and individuals.

  • Each prize is judged by a panel of eminent and qualified individuals, whose contribution of expertise and time helps support the credibility of the Eureka Prizes.

  • The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes culminates in a gala award dinner, which has become the largest single event in Australia celebrating and rewarding Australian science.

  • Publicity of the 2012 prize winners reached an estimated audience of 12.5 million.

  • In 2013, 17 prizes were awarded in four categories - Research & Innovation, Leadership & Commercialisation, School Science and Science Communication & Journalism.

The Judges

Australian Museum Eureka Prizes judges are expert representatives from a variety of disciplines and work in universities, schools, media, research institutes, industry, science centres and government departments.

For interviews, contact:

Professor Scott Ritchie: 0400 786 610 or email: scott.ritchie@jcu.edu.au

Dr Arian Wallach: 0431 347 191 or email: arian.wallach@jcu.edu.au

JCU Media contact: Caroline Kaurila (07) 4781 4586 or 0437 028 175