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Otago researchers gain major Marsden funding for cutting-edge projects

Student walking past Zoology building

Thursday 8 October 2009 2:19pm

University of Otago researchers have gained more than $18m in the latest annual Marsden Fund round for 25 world-class research projects that push the frontiers of knowledge.

The Otago projects will be led by researchers from across the University's Divisions of Health Sciences, Humanities, and Sciences.

Otago researchers will use their new funding to answer unsolved questions in the theory of gravity and to explore the untold history of the children fathered by US servicemen stationed in the South Pacific during WWII.

Other researchers will examine the effects of excessive maternal weight gain during pregnancy, and yet others will investigate the basic mechanisms involved in learning and memory. Other projects delve into topics with important implications for the health and productivity of our oceans, such as iron fertilisation and ocean acidification.

Several research projects will use state-of-the-art forensic techniques to solve mysteries about the lives, health and environments of ancient peoples in New Zealand and the Pacific.

Research Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Harlene Hayne congratulated the recipients on their outstanding performance in a very competitive funding round that saw only a 12 per cent success rate nationally for applications.

"Our recipients, who range from early-career researchers to eminent professorial staff, have demonstrated that their research is at the cutting-edge."

"I am extremely proud that for the 5th year in a row, our researchers have captured more Marsden funding than any other institution in New Zealand. Otago's continued success in this extremely competitive funding environment is a good indicator of the high calibre of our research programmes."

The four "Fast Start" grants awarded to promising researchers in the early stage of their research careers are especially pleasing, she says.

Among the recipients of Fast Start grants is the Department of Botany's Dr Tina Summerfield, who will investigate how cyanobacteria regulate their metabolism. These organisms, which produce hydrogen in low-oxygen environments, may potentially be a future source of clean energy.

Marsden grants are administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand and support research excellence in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, social sciences and the humanities. This year, $66m was distributed amongst 15 institutions in New Zealand.

A full list of Otago recipients follows below.

For more information, please contact

Professor Harlene Hayne
Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Enterprise)
Tel 64 3 479 8835

Otago's Marsden recipients

Dr Greg Anderson (Anatomy & Structural Biology)
Sex steroids: new regulators of brain SOCS
$735,000 over three years

Associate Professor Judy Bennett and Dr Angela Wanhalla (History & Art History)
Mothers' darlings: Children of indigenous women and World War Two American servicemen in New Zealand and South Pacific societies
$917,000 over three years

Dr Blair Blakie (Physics)
The Quantum Dipole Gas
$720,000 over three years

Dr Colin Brown (Physiology) and Professor David Grattan (Anatomy & Structural Biology)
Hormonal regulation of bodyweight in reproduction
$820,000 over three years

Dr Hallie Buckley (Anatomy & Structural Biology)
Lapita diet and health in Vanuatu: Human adaptation to a virgin island environment
$604,000 over three years

Professor Greg Cook and Dr Michael Berney (Microbiology & Immunology)
Why are Hydrogenases Found in the Genomes of Aerobic Bacteria?
$810,000 over three years

Dr Peter Fineran (Microbiology & Immunology)
Bacterial protection against phage infections: converging themes in toxin-antitoxin and abortive infection systems?
$753,000 over three years

Professor Jörg Frauendiener (Mathematics & Statistics)
Global simulation of gravitational waves from isolated systems
$885,000 over three years

Professor Neil Gemmell (Anatomy & Structural Biology)
Investigating the genetic basis for and adaptive significance of cryptic female choice in an external fertiliser the chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tschawytscha)
$870,000 over three years

Dr Andrew Gorman (Geology)
Solving the mystery of sustained ocean fertility at the Subantarctic Front. Seismic oceanography gives us the means
$693,000 over three years

Dr Sian Halcrow (Anatomy & Structural Biology)
Health and Social Change in Prehistoric Southeast Asia
$300,000 over three years (Fast Start grant)

Professor Harlene Hayne (Psychology)
"Do You Remember This?" Age-Related Changes in the Effect of Verbal Reminders
$865,000 over three years

Dr Stephanie Hughes (Biochemistry) and Dr Ruth Empson (Physiology)
The Transcription Factor Code: maintaining neuronal identity and function in the adult brain
$935,000 over three years

Associate Professor Catriona Hurd (Botany)
Ocean acidification: calcifiers are only the tip of the iceberg
$915,000 over three years

Associate Professor Brian Hyland (Physiology)
New pathways for new learning - probing a novel brain circuit for associating environmental stimuli with rewards
$880,000 over three years

Mr Chris Jacomb (Anthropology, Gender & Sociology)
First contact: environmental shifts, faunal collapse and the Polynesian settlement of New Zealand
$777,000 over three years

Dr Guy Jameson (Chemistry)
Iron's role in the enzyme Cysteine Dioxygenase: Mechanism and biological relevance
$810,000 over three years

Dr Simone Celine Marshall (English)
A New Paradigm of Medieval Literary Anonymity
$227,000 over three years

Professor Alison Mercer (Zoology)
A bee-line into memory mechanisms
$975,000 over three years

Dr Janette Quennell (Anatomy & Structural Biology)
Infertility, body fat and kisspeptin: making the connections
$300,000 over three years (Fast Start grant)

Dr John Reynolds (Anatomy & Structural Biology)
Dopamine and learning – it's all in the timing
$960,000 over three years

Professor Stephen Robertson (Women's and Children's Health)
The two faces of WTX in human development
$840,000 over three years

Professor Paul Smith (Pharmacology & Toxicology)
Does stimulation of the vestibular inner ear enhance memory?
$900,000 over three years

Dr Tina Summerfield (Botany)
Regulation of photosynthetic electron transport under low oxygen conditions: implications for sustained hydrogen production
$300,000 over three years (Fast Start grant)

Dr Virginia Toy (Geology)
Effect of fluids on the strength of the mid-crustal coupling zone on major faults: insights from New Zealand's Alpine Fault
$300,000 over three years (Fast Start grant)

* The following Marsden recipient applied for her grant while at the University of Auckland but has now joined the University of Otago:

Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith (Anatomy and Structural Biology)
Redrawing the Polynesian Triangle: Did Polynesian settlement extend to South America?
$710,000 over three years

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