Thursday, 25 October 2012

Live by the Grant, Die by the Grant

October and November are always very anxious months for Australian scientists. Traditionally, the results from the major grant rounds from both the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) are announced around this time of the year. It's also an awkward time of the year, if you don't get funding, it's easy to look through the lists of funded projects and become bitter about why was so-and-so funded rather than you when their project is much more boring. Even if you do get funded, you feel bad for your colleagues who didn't get funded (best to avoid making eye contact with them).

The NHMRC grant results came out last Friday, with mixed results for us. We received funding for a collaborative project led by Jon Iredell at Westmead Hospital, to investigate which antibiotics are more likely to disrupt the "society" of beneficial microbes living in a patient's stomach. But we just missed out being funded for our work on looking for novel drug resistance genes in the opportunistic pathogen A. baumannii (on the 0-7 scoring scale used by NHMRC we were about 0.05-0.10 below the funding line).

One thing that became clear to me while sitting on an NHMRC panel this year, is simply the large number of excellent proposals that it's just not possible to fund due to the limited resources of the funding agencies. If we look at the funding statistics from the last ten years or so of NHMRC grants (figure below), usually about three quarters of the grants received are rated as worthy of funding, but only about a quarter of the proposals are actually funded (this year 22%). So, it's always a tough battle for funding.

NHMRC grant stats (taken from the NHMRC web site), lolcat photos are my addition

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Batten down the hatches sailor!

Martin Ostrowski, one of the ARC post-doctoral fellows in our group is trading his white lab coat for a hat, safety boots and a lot of sunscreen. He is taking part in a research voyage that will study the lifestyles of marine microbes in the Arafura Sea and along the Great Barrier Reef on the Research Vessel Southern Surveyor. The voyage will consist of 8 days transit from Darwin to Cairns and includes scientists from Macquarie Uni, UTS and UNSW. The science team will collect seawater samples to study microbial communities and gain a better understanding of their contribution to important processes, such as photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation in our surrounding seas.

Hopefully the weather will be clement and the swell will not turn our brave sailors into green tomatoes. Keep looking for some updates along the way (as long as the camera does not fall overboard on a particularly large wave!).

"The RV Southern Surveyor is a national facility available to marine scientists to explore and study Australia's oceans. It is owned and managed by CSIRO, and its operations are funded by the Australian Government to enable oceanographic, geo-science, fisheries and ecosystem research." []

The RV Southern Surveyor ready to leave at Darwin's docks

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Congratulations and Bon Voyage Dr Kent

Congratulations to Kent Lim, who has now officially completed his PhD! This makes Kent the first PhD student to complete in my group here at Macquarie. Yay!

Kent was extremely hard working and has made significant contributions to our understanding of Pseudomonas bacteria that live on plant roots and protect plants from pathogenic organisms. He has first author publications in PLoS One and Environmental Microbiology, co-authorship on a large paper in PLoS Genetics, another first author manuscript currently under review at Applied and Environmental Microbiology, and two more manuscripts currently in preparation.

Kent is now heading off to Charlotte, North Carolina, where he will be a postdoctoral fellow in the lab of Martin Klotz at the University of North Carolina, where I think he is going to be working on global biogeochemical cycles and genome-guided metabolic reconstruction. We'll miss Kent here in the Paulsen lab, but wish him the best of luck in his future scientific endeavours!

Kent and Benny the Beaver (mascot of Oregon State University)- picture taken while Kent was visiting the lab of my collaborator, Joyce Loper in Oregon.

Congrats MQ iGEM team!

Great job by the Macquarie iGEM team, they've brought home a silver medal from Hong Kong (yes silver is the new gold), which is the best result for an Australian team! And they are one of 17 teams (out of 51) from the Asia-Pacific region to be invited to attend the iGEM finals at MIT next month! I'm sure the trip to MIT will be a great experience for the students, and they will be fantastic scientific ambassadors for Macquarie. Full iGEM results can be found here.

The Macquarie iGEM team and their poster in Hong Kong (is that a victory sign? a peace sign? a secret iGEM sign? whats up with the fingers?)

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Good luck Macquarie iGEM team!!!!

Good luck to the Macquarie iGEM team, who are on their way to Hong Kong  for the regional jamboree of the International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. iGEM is a worldwide Synthetic Biology competition for teams of undergraduate students, where they try to build biological systems from standard, interchangeable parts and operate them in living cells.

This is the third year, we have sent teams to iGEM as part of our Biomolecular Sciences Capstone unit. In 2010, the MQ team won a bronze medal, an outstanding achievement for a first time competitor (equal best among Australian teams). The following year's team was able to build on their success and won a silver medal (which made them the top Australian team). This year, we're hoping the MQ team can do even better and Go for Gold! Hopefully, they will be better at that than the Australian swimming team in the London Olympics.

The 2012 Macquarie iGEM team have successfully engineeered a light sensitive genetic switch that turns on when exposed to light in the far red spectrum. For the full details see their wiki site. They have also been very successful in raising money to fund team members to go to the iGEM jamboree. They've done an outstanding job and we wish them the best of luck in Hong Kong! 

Strategy for constructing the light sensitive genetic switch (image taken from the iGEM team wiki site)