As the tropics become more populous, many minds are needed to tackle urgent problems including diseases, conflict and environmental degradation.
The annual Tropical Research Network (TRN) Conference this week in Cairns has brought together some of the best young researchers from seven universities in Australia. They will form new collaborations to deal with the challenges inherent in tropical regions.
Over two-thirds of the world’s nations are either fully or partially located within the tropics, and they contain 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity.
One of the biggest problems facing the tropical world is disease. The most prevalent mosquito-borne disease in Australia is Ross River Fever, which affects about 4000 to 5000 Australians each year and potentially could spread to other tropical countries.
“Ross River virus infection often leads to loss of bone,” research student Javier Chen from Griffith University said.
“This disease is highly disabling and painful,” Mr Chen said. His project is developing treatment options for this disease.
The tropical region also contains many conflict zones. One of these, Rwanda in east-central Africa, suffered from a four-year civil war that culminated in the genocide of more than one million of its people. New research by Gilbert Karareba is helping to establish school leadership that will build a strong foundation in that nation’s education system.
“Impressive progress in increasing children’s access to education has been made,” Mr Karareba said. “Further school leadership is required to continue improving student learning.”
In the tropics up to 50 per cent of coral reefs have been lost or damaged, and this has major flow-on effects to marine industries, such as fishing and tourism.
Townsville-based research student Mei-Fang Lin is investigating coral bleaching. “Comparing the genes of bleached and unbleached corals will help us to better understand the causes of bleaching, the effects on coral and the options for preventing this problem as our oceans warm,” Ms Lin said.
The TRN conference is being held at the Cairns campus of James Cook University.
“In a time of unprecedented climate change, disease outbreaks and social unrest, Australian researchers believe that what goes on in the tropics is going to drive global events for the next 200 years,” collaborating partner Professor David Plummer from Griffith University said.
“To stay ahead of the curve we have to develop a sophisticated research network to understand the changes, plan ahead and respond decisively.”
Issued: November 4, 2014
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