The miracle of milk revealed online

Media releases

Milk is complex, and understanding its molecular biology is a difficult but rewarding challenge.

Not only are human and cow milk of huge social and economic importance, the milk of other animals reveals much about the evolution and development of mammals – including us.

Victorian researchers have created a unique computing resource to share information about their discoveries of milk’s molecular biology.

The MammoSapiens project has been recognised by the Victorian eResearch Strategic Initiative (VeRSI) Award in science. The project team will receive a server worth over $26,000 thanks to the prize’s sponsor, Dell.

“MammoSapiens shows how eResearch can transform scientific research,” says Dr Ann Borda, Director of VeRSI, a Multimedia Victoria-supported initiative to help researchers unleash the power of IT to transform vast amounts of data into useful shared knowledge.

“Mammosapiens clearly delivers real solutions to real challenges by demonstrating collaborative and integrative approaches in dealing with complex biological data, and importantly by enabling research which the scientist couldn’t do otherwise,” she says.

The MammoSapiens project allows researchers working on different aspects of lactation in different species to compare what they have found and work together to construct a comprehensive database of genetic and biochemical information of the lactation process. Its first outcome—a suite of tools known as EST-PAC—automates matching and annotation of the fragments of DNA known as expressed sequence tags. It is already available online at the Victorian Bioinformatics Consortium (VBC) website at

MammoSapiens was initiated by the Cooperative Research Centre for Innovative Dairy Products and the VBC, a collaboration between the Department of Primary Industries and Monash University.

Understanding the production of milk is not only important to the dairy industry and for the nutrition of babies, but it also provides insight into mammalian development and evolution.

“But the project has wider significance”, says the Associate Professor of  Bioinformatics at Deakin University, Dr Christophe Lefèvre, who leads the MammoSapiens team. “Much of the software we develop will be generic and able to be adapted to other areas of molecular biology.”

In the words of the judges: “The panel viewed MammoSapiens as a significant integration of a variety of technologies and techniques, which were: both imported and developed by the project; assembled and evolved hand-in-hand with the application domain researchers; of broader interest and application; and not overly dependent on extensive infrastructure.”

The VeRSI Award was open to any Australian eResearch activity where one of the principal investigators was a Victorian. The prize—a Dell PowerEdge 2950 rack mountable server worth more than $26,000—was presented by Phil Davis, Dell Vice President of Enterprise Products for Asia Pacific and Japan and the Executive Director of VeRSI, Dr Ann Borda at the eResearch Australasia conference in Melbourne.