Join the systems biology revolution; meet our new SA group leaders; travel grants

EMBL Australia

In this month’s newsletter:

Posted on behalf of Nadia Rosenthal, Scientific Head, EMBL Australia

EMBL Australia moves into South Australia: introducing our new group leaders

  • Joining the dots between heart disease and genes
  • Unravelling the complex networks that control the response to infection

EMBL Australia is expanding into South Australia this month, and we’re welcoming two new group leaders to the EMBL Australia family.

Medical bioinformaticians Ville-Petteri Mäkinen and David Lynn will be the first additions to the South Australian node of EMBL Australia, hosted at the brand new South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI).

Ville and David will be bringing a “big data” approach to SAHMRI’s heart, cancer and immunity themes, helping SAHMRI achieve their aim of transforming research into practical health outcomes.


A computational engineer by training, Ville-Petteri Mäkinen has always been drawn to the boundary between biology and engineering. At EMBL Australia, he’ll be analysing huge datasets of human clinical and genomic data, looking for new links between our genes and heart disease.

It’s a project, he says, that is well-suited to the longer timeframe offered by the EMBL Australia funding model, which offers group leaders up to nine years of secure funding, rather than the three to five year funding cycle typically offered to young scientists.

“Having the security of an EMBL Australia position at SAHMRI will allow me to really do the groundwork thoroughly,” Ville says.

David Lynn has joined the infection and immunity group of  researchers at SAHMRI, although he will also concentrate some of his efforts on cancer.


 “My research will investigate the regulation of innate immunity from a global or systems perspective, trying to untangle the complex, multi-layered web of interactions and pathways that control it,” says David. “Additionally, we will also be investigating how protein interaction networks are re-wired in cancer”.

The EMBL Australia Group Leaders will be some of the first researchers to move into SAHMRI, which is a collaboration between Flinders University, Adelaide University and the University of South Australia and the South Australian Government.

We are planning to advertise a third position at SAHMRI later in 2014, together with other new positions around Australia.

Read more about Ville and David and their EMBL Australia positions online.


From yeast to coral reefs: systems biology is tackling the big questions in Melbourne

How does a coral reef recover from a cyclone?
How do the habits of parents affect the success of IVF?
How does every cell in the heart contribute to its function?
How do we move from treating illnesses to optimising wellness?

Systems biology can help us tackle big questions like these. It lets us model biological systems, from a whole yeast cell to a whole rat or even an ecosystem.

Australia is quickly building a reputation for research in systems biology, and Melbourne and EMBL Australia are hosting the International Conference on Systems Biology later this year, focusing on:

  • energy and the environment
  • software modelling and data
  • high dimensional and multi-scale systems
  • systems foundations, directions and outreach
  • industry systems biology
  • technology
  • model systems and systems design

The call for abstracts has now closed. If you missed out this time, there will be a latebreaking call for abstracts announced in June 2014. Sign up to the conference mailing list to get the latest information.

Join the following speakers at this year’s conference: Brenda Andrews (The Banting and Best Department of Medical Research, The University of Toronto); Edmund  Crampin (University of Melbourne); Barbara  Fazekas (Centenary Institute of Cancer Medicine and Cell Biology); Anne-Claude Gavin (EMBL Heidelberg); Leroy Hood (Institute for Systems Biology); Huck Hui Ng(Genome Institute); Peter  Hunter (Auckland Bioengineering Institute); Howard Jacob (Medical College of Wisconsin); Hiroaki Kitano (Systems Biology Institute Tokyo); Nicholas  Le Novere(European Molecular Biology Laboratory); John Mattick (The Garvan Institute); Dana Pe’re(Columbia University); David  Rand (University of Warwick); Ian Small (ARC Centre of Excellence, UWA); John Tyson (Virginia Tech); Marc Vidal (Harvard Medical School); Marian Walhout (Umass Medical School); Christine Wells (Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology); Hans Westerhoff (University of Amsterdam); Marc Wilkins (University of NSW); and Elizabeth  Murchison (University of Cambridge). See the list online.



In other news

Don’t miss out on courses in Europe – apply now for travel grants

EMBL’s calendar of events in Europe is filling up fast with conferences and courses for the second half of 2014.  But just because you live in Australia, doesn’t mean you have to miss out.

If you’re a PhD student studying life sciences at an Australian university or research institute, you can now apply for an EMBL Australia PhD travel grant.

You can use the grant for travel to Europe to attend training courses, conferences or symposia at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). Or you could spend some time visiting or working in EMBL laboratories in Germany, France, Italy or the UK.

The following travel grants are available in 2014:

  • The EMBL Australia PhD Travel Grants provide up to $3,500 for short trips of less than six weeks, or up to $7,500 for a longer visit of up to 6 months. Applications for travel between 1 July 2014 and 31 December 2014 are now open until 4 April 2014. Applications are now open
  • The EMBL PhD Symposium Grants offer travel to Europe to attend the annual EMBL PhD Symposium – a conference designed for PhD students, organised by PhD students. Applications will open in April/May 2014 for travel to the symposium in October 2014.
  • The EMBL Australia’s International PhD Program enables students to undertake their PhD at an EMBL facility in Europe. The PhD is jointly awarded and co-supervised by EMBL and the student’s Australian university, and students are provided with a stipend and travel support.

Find out more about travel grants.


How resilient is our Great Barrier Reef?

AIMS_Sea_Sim_Credit_Sarah_Boyd_2014It’s under threat from every angle – climate change, contamination, introduced species, and industrial development. So how do corals cope with all this stress?

Sarah Boyd at SBI Australia is leading a project that uses a systems biology approach to predict and measure the effects of environmental stress on one of our most valuable and unique ecosystems.

Ecosystem health has previously been measured by looking at the number of different species it contains, but there has been a recent shift towards measuring health in terms of ‘trait diversity’ – where traits are used to describe and measure each organism’s ecological role and how they interact with the environment.

Trait-based methods have previously been applied to plant ecology, and project member Elizabeth Widman (University of Warwick) has been studying how these methods relate to coral reef ecosystems in Madagascar.  Now, SBI Australia has teamed up with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Warwick to bring this research to the Great Barrier Reef.

“We are trying to find out whether coral reef traits, rather than species, can be used to understand reef resilience to environmental stress,” says Sarah. “Understanding the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef to climate change is increasingly critical, especially from the perspective of reef management.”

To discuss how a trait-based approach might be applied to corals and other reef organisms, this month, Sarah and her collaborators brought together national and international experts in coral reef ecology, systems biology, and reef management for a workshop at AIMS in Queensland. The workshop was funded by Great Barrier Reef Foundation.

“If successful, this work will open up a new approach for scientists and reef managers to better understand and protect the Great Barrier Reef from the impacts of climate change,” says Sarah. “Consequently, the workshop generated a great deal of enthusiasm.

 The outcomes of the workshop will be presented in a report to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation later in the year.


Got an idea to bring bioinformaticians together? Make it happen with a Connection Grant

The Australian Bioinformatics Network is all about connecting bioinformaticians with each other, with opportunities, and the tools they need.

If you have an idea for connecting bioinformaticians with industry, bringing over a visiting scientist, or a networking event, you can now apply to make it happen.

Applications for Connection Grants are now open until 7 March 2014.

With last year’s grants:

  • The CSIRO, Murdoch University and the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics brought wheat bioinformaticians together for networking events.
  • We helped bring ‘Software Carpentry Bootcamps’ to Adelaide and Melbourne to help bioinformaticians keep up with the latest in software design and programming.
  • SBI Australia brought systems biology pioneer Dr Mike Hucka over from Caltech in the USA to speak with bioinformaticians at symposiums in Melbourne and Sydney.

Read more about last year’s recipients.

Find out more or apply now at the Australian Bioinformatics Network website.


Upcoming events

If you have events to add to the EMBL Australia events calendar, drop us a note with the details and a link for more information.

Science meets Parliament 2014
17/03/2014 Parliament House, Canberra

AusMedtech 2014
1/04/2014, Hilton on the Park, Melbourne

Future approaches to bone repair and modelling
2/04/2014 Melbourne Brain Centre – 30 Royal Parade, Parkville

Big Data 2014
3/04/2014, Pullman Albert Park, Melbourne

Closing date: 2014 PhD Travel Grants Round 2

EMBL Australia PhD Course
30/06/2014 Australian National University, Canberra

2014 Winter School in Mathematical and Computational Biology
7/07/2014 Auditorium, Queensland Bioscience Precinct (Building #80)

International Conference on Bioinformatics 2014
31/07/2014 Novotel, Brighton Beach, Sydney

15th International Conference on Systems Biology
14/09/2014 Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre

ComBio 2014
28/09/2014 National Convention Centre, Canberra

The 16th EMBL PhD Symposium – Inspired by Biology: Exploring Nature’s Toolbox.
23/10/2014 EMBL Heidelberg, Germany

Translational Research Excellence Conference
24/10/2014 Brisbane, Australia

AusBiotech 2014- National Conference
28/10/2014 Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Centre

BioInfoSummer 2014
1/12/2014 Monash University

EMBL Australia PhD Symposium: Research in life sciences: in vitro to in vivo
3/12/2014 University of NSW, Sydney

For bioinformatics events in 2014, see the Australian Bioinformatics Network events page.

About EMBL Australia

EMBL – the European Molecular Biology Laboratory – is Europe’s flagship for the life sciences. The Australian government joined EMBL as an Associate Member in 2008.

EMBL Australia is an unincorporated joint venture between members of the Group of Eight universities and the CSIRO, supported by the Australian government.

Read more about EMBL Australia