Growth, celebration and opportunities for students

EMBL Australia
Growth, celebration and opportunities for students post image

EMBL Australia will launch a third node at the new South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.

And “new knowledge, ideas and a feeling of inspiration”, as EMBL Australia supports a group of PhD students to travel to the main EMBL campus in Heidelberg, Germany.

Also in this new year bulletin: more travel grants and internships for PhD students; EMBL alumni making connections with Europe; and congratulating Victoria Prize winner Terry Speed.

From Nadia Rosenthal, Scientific Head EMBL Australia

It has been a busy year for EMBL Australia, and things aren’t slowing down – this summer we’re making plans for a third node of EMBL Australia at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute.

Among the year’s highlights:

  • Funding 29 PhD students to travel to Europe for conferences and training at EMBL.
  • The first PhD student to enrol in the EMBL Australia International PhD Program is settling in to life in Heidelberg.
  • Former EMBL-EBI director Graham Cameron has joined our Queensland node to lead the EMBL Australia Bioinformatics Resource.
  • The Australian Bioinformatics Network is forming into a hub of information with the support of EMBL Australia, Bioplatforms Australia and CSIRO
  • Winning the bid host the 15th International Conference for Systems Biology in Melbourne in 2014, and We’re looking forward to hosting our inaugural PhD training course for first-year PhD students in July next year.

On behalf of everyone at EMBL Australia, I wish you an enjoyable and relaxing summer break. We look forward to sharing our programs and achievements with you in the new year.

In this month’s bulletin:

EMBL Australia expands, with a third node in South Australia

We are delighted to announce that EMBL Australia will open a new node at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) in 2013. Applications for three Group Leader positions in Biomedical Informatics will be opening soon.

“SAHMRI is offering state of the art facilities with an extensive range of platform technologies adjacent to a major clinical centre,” said Scientific Director Nadia Rosenthal. “Biomedical informatics is a growing discipline that addresses the complexity of today’s medical science. When SAHMRI approached us with the idea of hosting a node we jumped at the chance to be involved.”

“It’s a fantastic opportunity for us to align ourselves with EMBL Australia and attract early career biomedical researchers at the top of their game,” says Prof Steve Wesselingh, SAHMRI’s Executive Director. “We believe that EMBL Australia’s approach to funding excellent young computational scientists will help us to build a strong scientific bioinformatics base for translating information into knowledge at our new institute.”

SAHMRI is a flagship research institute being developed as a collaboration between South Australia’s three universities: The University of Adelaide, The University of South Australia and Flinders University. Due to open in mid-2013, the Institute will house around 600 researchers and will focus on: cancer; heart disease; nutrition and metabolism; healthy mothers, babies and children; infection and immunity; and mind and brain. There will be a strong genomics and computational component across the themes as well as a special focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

Each Group Leader position provides generous funding for five years with the option to extend it for another four years. The positions will be funded by contributions from SAHMRI’s parent institutions: The University of Adelaide, The University of South Australia and Flinders University.

Further details including application instructions will be announced early in 2013 and available on both the SAHMRI and EMBL Australia websites.

Congratulations to Terry Speed on his Victoria Prize

Congratulations to Professor Terry Speed from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute on winning the 2012 Victoria Prize for Life Sciences.

Terry is an active member of the bioinformatics community, both in Australia and internationally, and is a member of EMBL Australia’s Bioinformatics Advisory Committee.

During a career spanning more than 20 years, Terry has developed new techniques that have been used in many fields of biological research including cancer, infectious diseases, immunology, and inherited diseases. And his expertise in bioinformatics has led to his involvement in US-based project The Cancer Genome Atlas, which seeks to chart genes and genomic changes involved in more than 20 kinds of cancer.

“Terry is a tireless advocate for bioinformatics, as well as a major contributor to bioinformatics research both in Australia and overseas,” says Nadia Rosenthal. “It’s great to see his contributions recognised by the Victorian State Government.”

Read more about his Victoria Prize-winning work on the WEHI website.

AMSI interns announced – and there’s one more internship on offer

The first two AMSI Bioinformatics interns were announced last week at BioInfoSummer in Adelaide:

  • Milica Ng, a PhD student at the University of Melbourne, will intern at CSL under the mentorship of Matthew Ritchie from WEHI
  • Sori Kang, also from the University of Melbourne will be working with the Victorian Life Sciences Computation Initiative (VLSCI) with the support of Professor Bernie Pope at the University of Melbourne.

There is still one internship on offer.

Could your organisation use an intern to help with bioinformatics research work?

Are you a student who’s keen to get your teeth stuck in to a project, or even perhaps already working with an industry partner?

If you are interested in the program, please contact Cate Ballard on or +61 422 518 465.

The AMSI internship program is jointly funded by AMSI, EMBL Australia and BioPlatforms Australia as well as the industry partner.  The research programs run for 4-5 months with contributions of $3,000 per month from the industry partner, as well as $5,000 contributed by AMSI for academic support, and a further $5,000 contributed by AMSI for pre-placement training for student and administrative costs.

EMBL Australia and Bioplatforms Australia also supported seven students with travel grants to attend BioInfoSummer: Dario Strbenac (University of Sydney), Helen McCormick (Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute), Qian Qian Wu (Monash University), Ellen Fortini (University of Western Australia), Menghan Liu (University of Sydney / Garvan Institute – Honours Student), Ashish Saini (Deakin University), Shiyong Ma (University of New South Wales).

“New knowledge, ideas and a feeling of inspiration”: the EMBL PhD Symposium

EMBL Australia supported 20 students to join the 14th EMBL PhD Symposium, an annual conference organised by EMBL’s postgrad students in Heidelberg.

The Australian group stood out, presenting half the student talks and winning two poster prizes.

A few of the students shared their thoughts on the EMBL experience:

Lorey Smith, PhD student at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre
I formed many new contacts – both on a professional and friendship level – and I am confident this will prove to be an invaluable network in the years to come. I have returned to Australia armed with new knowledge, ideas and a feeling of inspiration!

This trip represents an important milestone on my path towards independent research. These opportunities are directly relevant to my transition to independent research and form an invaluable foundation for my post-doctoral professional development.

Samuel Forster – PhD student at the Monash Institute of Medical Research
The Networks in Life Sciences conference far exceeded my expectations and I am extremely grateful to EMBL Australia. I’ve been exposed to a number of currently unpublished and potentially useful approaches, techniques and perspectives. Since returning these insights have already had direct impacts on my on-going PhD research.

Yee Suan Poo – PhD student at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research
I got to know several young researchers during the conference.  Their enthusiasm has inspired me to be more attentive and to ask questions during each talk. I also greatly benefited from the insights and idea-sharing during the symposium’s daily informal forum with the keynote speakers.

2013 travel grants
EMBL Australia plans to support another group of students to travel to next year’s symposium. Details will be available early next year.

PhD students can also apply for a grant of up to $7500 to study or work at an EMBL lab. Applications close in April for travel in the second half of 2013.

More information about these grants and EMBL Australia’s travel grants for PhD students can be found on our website:

New student portal seeking contributions

We are building a new student portal on our website to give PhD students up-to-date information about PhD programs, events, scholarships, travel grants and other funding opportunities.

It’s not restricted to EMBL Australia opportunities-we would love to hear about any positions or opportunities that you may be offering PhD students at your laboratory or institute. It’s a work in progress, and we’d love your feedback on ways to make it a great resource.

Please contact Jane, our Student Programs Coordinator, on with any opportunities you’d like us to add to the portal, or with suggestions of what you’d like to see there.

EMBL alumni building links between Europe and Australia

EMBL alumnus Professor Thomas Preiss has won an NHMRC grant worth AU$630,000 to continue a collaboration with his former supervisor at EMBL, Professor Matthias Hentze, and he’s looking for a PhD student to join his group at ANU.

Preiss and Hentze are investigating the networks between RNA, enzymes and metabolites-or REM networks-and how they might connect metabolism and gene expression.

After seven years as an EMBL post-doc, Thomas Preiss moved to the Victor Chang Research Institute in 2002. His work now at the Australian National University focuses on RNA-binding proteins and how they influence and control gene activity.

“The regulation of gene expression at the transcription and epigenetic levels may only be part of the story,” Thomas explains. “There is overwhelming evidence that microRNA molecules and RNA-binding proteins also play critical roles.”

A wide range of proteins bind to RNA, he says, recognising either specific sequences or structural motifs within the RNA sequence or more common elements such as exon-exon boundaries.

“Matthias and his group have developed a method to purify mRNAs from cells along with the proteins that bind to them. This ‘mRNA interactome’ capture approach has already yielded more than 300 proteins not previously described as RNA-binding,” says Thomas. “The exciting thing is that many of these newly identified RNA-binding proteins are classical metabolic enzymes. Moreover, 10% have known associations with diseases such as diabetes, glaucoma, cancer and cardiac disease.”

Thomas and his team at ANU will focus their efforts on analysing the mRNA interactomes from cardiomyocytes under different physiological conditions such as cells in a hypertrophic or hypoxic state and compare the RNA-binding proteins present in normal vs. diseased or stressed cells.

“Different cellular states will have different mRNA interactomes, so we should get a better understanding of the diseased vs. the healthy state,” Thomas says.

Take on an Australian PhD with international connections

Thomas has an opportunity for a PhD student to join his group at ANU to work on this project. The project comes with a fully funded fellowship from the John James Memorial Foundation and is open to both Australian and International students-including those on temporary visas.

Please see the EMBL Australia website for more details:

What is EMBL Australia?

The European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) is Europe’s flagship laboratory for basic research in molecular biology. EMBL Australia was created to maximise the benefits of Australia’s associate membership to EMBL – in science collaboration, training and access to the European Bioinformatics Institute (EBI) life science data resources.
We have two nodes: at Monash University and at the University of Queensland. We’re launching a third node in South Australia in 2013, and two more nodes will be established in the next few years.

Since our launch in March 2010 EMBL Australia has initiated:

  • a EMBL Australia Partner Laboratory, which will grow from the present two groups led by Edwina McGlinn and Nicolas Plachta at Monash University’s Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute to a total of 18 research groups networked across four campuses;
  • a Faculty Development Program, which aims to support Australian researchers for five years at an EMBL Laboratory  in Europe, followed by a further four years at an Australian institution;
  • an International PhD program which enables PhD students to undertake their research at an EMBL laboratory in Europe while being co-supervised by an Australian university and;
  • a suite of initiatives in bioinformatics including the EBI mirror at the University of Queensland and the establishment of the Australian Bioinformatics Network.

We’re continuing to support young researchers in Australia with training and development opportunities. And we’re making it easier for Australian scientists to access EMBL’s facilities in Europe and to create our own shared research infrastructure at home.

EMBL Australia’s work is underpinned by its partnerships with CSIRO, Monash University, the University of Queensland, the University of Sydney and the University of Western Australia, and the research infrastructure investments of the Australian government.