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Funding for joint science projects announced

Surfing at St Clair

Friday 24 July 2009 9:36am

A funding boost of $500,000 to support several new joint science research projects between AgResearch and the University of Otago has been announced today, demonstrating the strong spirit of cooperation between both leading research organisations.

The AgResearch, University of Otago Collaborative Research Fund, set up to foster research between the two bodies, has been running for the past two years and is designed to stimulate new research partnerships between the two organisations.

The funding grants for 2009 involve seven projects selected from a strong field of 21 submissions for one-year funding worth $500,000 in total.

Professor Harlene Hayne, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Enterprise, says this Fund allows excellent science, relevant to New Zealand's needs, to be developed and shared across institutions.

Dr Phillip Lindsay, AgResearch Chief Information Officer, believes the Fund is especially important since such cross-discipline research ideas, benefitting both the pastoral sector and human health, would otherwise have difficulty attracting initial funding. He is hopeful that the projects will attract future funding as they progress.

Several of the projects involve the new Centre for Reproduction and Genomics (CRG) at Invermay, near Dunedin. Since its inception last year, the state-of-the-art centre has become New Zealand's hub for research into reproduction and genomics, bringing together scientific teams from AgResearch and Otago. Their research focuses on livestock and human reproduction, health and disease.

CRG Director Prof Neil Gemmell says he is delighted that once again AgResearch and the University have had the foresight to contribute seed funding towards collaborative projects that benefit knowledge of both human and animal-related health issues.

The projects to receive the green light for funding were selected by Prof Hayne, Dr Lindsay and a panel of science referees. Two projects are commercially sensitive, however, and have not been detailed here. The other five projects to receive funding are:

  • Prof Neil Gemmell, of Otago, and Dr Kristy Demmers, of AgResearch, will use genomic comparisons between three sequenced non-placental mammals (platypus, opossum and wallaby) and 17 sequenced placental mammals (including humans, cows and mice) to identify the key genes which help form the placenta during pregnancy. The research seeks to shed light on the genetic basis of placenta formation, which may lead to reductions in early pregnancy failure and increased offspring growth and survival, with implications for both human and animal reproductive health.
  • Dr Sin Phua, AgResearch, and Prof Neil Gemmell, Otago, will use a salmon model and next generation sequencing to test the established view that mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is inherited clonally without genetic recombination. If, as they suspect, mtDNA inheritance is more complex than is currently recognised there will need to be significant reassessment of the evolutionary histories of many species, including modern humans. The work also has implications for our understanding of the inheritance of mtDNA-based degenerative diseases such as infertility, ageing and cancer.
  • Dr Alaa El-Din A. Bekhit, Otago and Tom Fraser, AgResearch, will study the use of lees, obtained during wine fermentation, as a non-chemical alternative to control parasites in organic sheep farming.
  • Prof Mike Eccles, Otago, and John McEwan, AgResearch, will use a sheep model to investigate the genetic basis of polycystic kidney disease, which may help in the understanding of a similar debilitating and sometimes terminal condition in humans.
  • Dr Sue Galloway, AgResearch, and Prof Ian Morison, Otago, will work on understanding the role of new imprinted X-chromosome genes in female reproduction. Sheep carrying the Woodlands fertility gene on their X chromosome show an unusual pattern of inheritance (maternal imprinting). This project aims to study imprinting in the Woodlands and other genes from these sheep as a model to understand new mechanisms for the way in which genes are regulated on the X chromosome in mammals.

For further information contact

Prof Neil Gemmell
Tel 03 479 6824

Dr Phillip Lindsay
Tel 03 489 9088

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