Confirmed plenary lecturers are listed below. Please click on the Bio button for a photograph and bio of each speaker.
Professor Christina Mitchell is the Dean of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences and Academic Vice-President at Monash University. Christina trained as a physician scientist specialising in clinical haematology. She obtained a PhD from Monash University before undertaking her postdoctoral studies with Professor Philip Majerus at Washington University Medical School, St Louis, USA. There, Christina purified the first human inositol polyphosphate 5-phosphatase, INPP5B, and contributed to the cloning of the enzyme. Returning to Australia to Box Hill Hospital, she became an independent investigator and was instrumental in characterising the key catalytic activity and substrate specificity of this important family of enzymes. More recently, her laboratory discovered that one of the 4-phosphatase family members, INPP4B, functions as a tumour suppressor in breast cancer and may represent a breast cancer prognostic marker. With collaborators, her laboratory has also contributed to the identification of mutations in the LIM adaptor protein FHL1 that cause reducing body myopathy.
Professor Benjamin Kile is an NHMRC Principal Research Fellow and Joint Head of the ACRF Chemical Biology Division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI). After completing a BSc (Hons) at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in 1997, he undertook PhD studies in the Cancer and Hematology Division at WEHI, graduating in 2001. Ben then pursued postdoctoral studies with Professor Monica Justice at Baylor College of Medicine, USA. He returned to WEHI in 2004 and became an independent Laboratory Head in 2008. The Kile lab is focused on the molecular regulation of blood cell formation and function, with a particular interest in the role of programmed cell death pathways. His lab has identified apoptotic mechanisms that regulate megakaryocyte and blood platelet survival, which has assisted the development of a new class of anti-cancer drugs called the BH3 mimetics. More recent efforts have uncovered the link between apoptotic caspases and the suppression of damage-associated molecular pattern (DAMP) signalling.
Jean Finnegan is a Senior Principal Research Scientist at CSIRO, Agriculture where she has been investigating mechanisms of epigenetic regulation for nearly 25 years. She isolated the first plant gene encoding a DNA methyltransferase (METI) and generated plants with reduced levels of DNA methylation using an antisense against METI. She and her colleagues determined the molecular basis for some of the abnormal phenotypes displayed by plants with reduced levels of methylation. Then Jean turned her attention to understanding the molecular basis for the memory of winter in vernalized plants. She and her colleagues have made major contributions to understanding the mechanisms involved in the repression of FLC in vernalized plants and to the quantitative nature of the vernalization response. She is currently working on imprinting in rice and on epialleles in wheat. Jean received a Newton-Turner award from CSIRO in 2009, and was awarded the Julian Wells Medal at the Lorne Genome conference in 2012. In 2014, Jean was made a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science.
Originating from the UK, Dr Mark Waters joined the University of Western Australia in 2010 to work on the genetics of karrikin responses in Arabidopsis. Derived from burnt plant matter,karrikins are seed germination stimulants that resemble strigolactone hormones. Dr Waters’ research has elucidated early events in karrikin and strigolactone signalling, specifically involving the karrikin receptor protein KAI2. His work has established that KAI2 regulates diverse aspects of the plant life cycle, and may be a receptor for an unknown plant hormone. Evolutionary conservation of KAI2 suggests that KAI2-dependent signalling is a fundamental and ancient process common to all plants.
Professor Melissa Little heads the Kidney Research Laboratory at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne and is a Professor in the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne, Australia. An alumnus of The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, she worked for more than 20 years at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience, where her research focussed on the molecular basis of kidney development, renal disease and repair. She is internationally recognised both for her work on the systems biology of kidney development and also for her pioneering studies into potential regenerative therapies in the kidney. This work has encompassed the characterisation of adult stem cells in the kidney as well as analyses of the embryonic progenitor population. Her work on the developing kidney has driven studies into the recreation of nephron stem cell populations via transcriptional reprogramming and directed differentiation of pluripotent stem cells. As a result, her research now focuses on the generation of mini-kidneys from patient stem cells for use in drug screening and disease modelling. Professor Little’s work has been recognised by many awards, including a Royal Society Endeavour Fellowship at the Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit, Edinburgh, Scotland. She has also received the GlaxoSmithKline Award for Research Excellence (2005), the Australian Academy of Sciences Gottschalk Medal in Medical Sciences (2004), an Eisenhower Fellowship (2006) and a Boorhaave Professorship, Leiden University (2015). A graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, she founded Nephrogenix Pty Ltd and was on the board of this company. From 2007-2008, she served as the Chief Scientific Officer at the Australian Stem Cell Centre. She is currently the Vice President of the Australasian Society for Stem Cell Research and a member of Stem Cells Australia. Melissa is on the editorial board of the Journal of the American Society for Nephrology, Development, Kidney International and Developmental Biology.
Associate Professor Peter Fineran is a molecular microbiologist at the University of Otago who investigates the interactions between phages, mobile genetic elements and bacteria. These interactions are major contributors to important processes ranging from global nutrient cycles to the dissemination of antibiotic resistance genes. Peter graduated with a BSc (Hons) from the University of Canterbury, NZ. He undertook his PhD and postdoctoral training at the University of Cambridge, UK and has also worked in Australia and the Netherlands. Peter has built an internationally-recognised team with particular expertise in phage resistance mechanisms, both “innate” toxin-antitoxin/abortive infection and "adaptive" CRISPR-Cas systems. His research has been published in over 45 articles in international journals including the top journals Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, PLoS Genetics, Nature Reviews Microbiology, Nature Structural and Molecular Biology and Nucleic Acids Research and he has co-edited a book on CRISPR-Cas systems. His research has a significant scientific impact. For example, Peter demonstrated a link between the "innate immunity" abortive infection and toxin-antitoxin systems and discovered an entirely new Type of toxin-antitoxin mechanism. In addition, his team has made critical contributions to the understanding of "adaptive immunity" provided by CRISPR-Cas systems. In recognition of his research achievements, he has received multiple awards, including the Rowheath Trust and Carl Smith Medal for the top emerging researcher at the University of Otago (2014) and a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship (2011) from the Royal Society of New Zealand.
Andrew’s research has centred on the plant’s response to the environment via the transcriptional regulation of key molecular pathways. An understanding of these responses allows improvement in plant growth and breeding of new varieties for NZ’s benefit. Andrew’s work on a variety of cultivated plants has produced significant discoveries in fundamental research. Some of his most recent research has focused on transcriptional regulation of anthocyanins, carotenoids, and chlorophyll in fruits, flowers and vegetables. This research has been published in top plant science journals. His standing in the field is reflected by the number of active international research collaborations with investigators from Italy, China, Thailand, Spain, South Africa, The Netherlands, Australia, and America. Andrew gained his PhD in 1992 at Cambridge University. Returning to NZ in 1997 he joined Plant and Food Research, and lectured at Auckland University from 2003. He is Director for the Joint Graduate School in Plant and Food Science, project leader for several genomics programmes, and full Professor in two Chinese Universities. In 2002 Andrew was awarded the NZSPB Outstanding Physiologist Award, the predecessor to the Roger Slack Award, for research conducted within 10 years of gaining his PhD.
Martin Caffrey grew up in Dublin and was awarded a first-class Honours degree in Agricultural Science at University College Dublin in 1972. With an MS in Food Science and a PhD in Biochemistry from Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, he embarked on a professorial career in the Chemistry Department at Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. In 2003, he returned to Ireland to establish the multidisciplinary Centre for Membrane Structural and Functional Biology at the University of Limerick with funding from Science Foundation Ireland and the National Institutes of Health, USA. Its mission is to establish the molecular bases for biomembrane assembly and stability and to understand how membranes transform and transmit signals in health and disease. In 2009, his research group moved to Dublin when Professor Caffrey received a Personal Chair at Trinity College Dublin with joint appointments in the School of Medicine and the School of Biochemistry and Immunology.
Dr Ana Maria Cuervo is the Robert and Renee Belfer Chair for the Study of Neurodegenerative Diseases, Professor in the Departments of Developmental and Molecular Biology and of Medicine of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and co-director of the Einstein Institute for Aging Studies. She obtained her MD degree and PhD from the University of Valencia, Spain, and received postdoctoral training at Tufts University, Boston. In 2002, she started her laboratory at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she continues her studies in the role of protein-degradation in neurodegenerative diseases and aging. Dr Cuervo’s group is interested in understanding how altered proteins can be eliminated from the cells through the lysosomal system and how malfunction of autophagy in aging is linked to neurodegenerative diseases. Dr Cuervo has been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards. She is currently co-Editor-in-Chief of Aging Cell and Associate Editor of Autophagy. Dr Cuervo is currently member of the NIA Scientific Council and of the NIH Council of Councils.
Junko Kyozuka is a Professor in the Graduate School of Life Sciences at Tohoku University. She was awarded her PhD from the University of Tokyo in 1988. She then worked as a researcher at the Plantech Research Institute owned by the Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation. Then she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at CSIRO, Plant Industry in Canberra, Australia. She was appointed Associate Professor at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in 1995. Since then, Junko’s main research interests centre on the genetic mechanisms of flower and inflorescence development. In 2001, she moved to the University of Tokyo and then moved to her present position at Tohoku University in 2015, where her study of plant development continues. Her current research topics include establishment of plant architecture through the control of developmental phase transition.
Jiayang Li is a Professor in the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Chinese Academy of Sciences. He is also President of the of Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the Chinese Vice Minister of Agriculture. After receiving his PhD in 1991 from Brandeis University, working with Dr Jerome Schiff, he worked as a postdoctoral fellow in Robert Last’s lab at the Boyce Thompson Institute at Cornell University. In 1994, Dr Li returned to China as a Professor of plant molecular genetics in the Institute of Genetics, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Dr Li’s main research interests centre on the molecular genetics of plant development and metabolism, with a particular focus on elucidating the molecular mechanisms underlying plant architecture and starch biosynthesis in rice. He is also interested in breeding super elite rice varieties by molecular design.
Roberto Mantovani received his Medical degree in 1985 from the University of Milan, honored with a best thesis Award by the MIT Club of Italy. From 1988 to 1992, he was an EMBO long term and ULP fellow in C. Benoist and D. Mathis’ laboratory at the LGME, in Strasbourg, where he started to work on the NF-Y transcription factor. In 1993, he established his own group at the Department of Genetics of the University of Milan. In 1998, he was appointed Associate Professor at the Department of Animal Sciences of the University of Modena. In 2003, he moved to the Department of Biomolecular Sciences of the University of Milan, becoming Full Professor of Genetics in 2005. He has been on the Boards of the Italian Genetics Association and the Italian Society of Molecular Biology, and he is currently in the Senate of the University of Milan. Research in Dr Mantovani’s laboratory is focussed on regulation of gene expression, notably on the NF-Y and p63 transcription factors. Specifically, the laboratory has led studies on the NF-Y trimer in mammals. The laboratory’s recent contributions include the structure of NF-Y in complex with it CCAAT target sequence, the identification of its regulome by genomic and functional studies, and the classification and interactions of the expanded NF-Y subunits in plants.
Carolyn Moores studies regulatory mechanisms of microtubule-dependent machinery using biochemistry, biophysics and cryo-electron microscopy structure determination. The work of the Moores group has particularly focused on (i) the kinesin superfamily of molecular motors that organise and modify the cellular microtubule array and (ii) non-motor regulators of microtubule dynamics, including doublecortin and End Binding proteins. Carolyn has been a group leader at ISMB, Birkbeck College London since 2003, supported by a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship and a Wellcome Trust University Award. She was promoted to Professor of Structural Biology in 2014. Carolyn studied undergraduate Biochemistry (University of Oxford, UK), a PhD in Structural Biology (MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of Cambridge, UK, supervised by Dr John Kendrick-Jones), and undertook postdoctoral research at The Scripps Research Institute (California, USA, mentored by Professor Ronald Milligan).
Guangshuo Ou is Associate Professor in the School of Life Sciences at Tsinghua University, China. After receiving his PhD in 2006 from the University of California, Davis, in the laboratory of Jon Scholey, he worked as a Damon Runyon postdoctoral fellow with Ron Vale at UCSF/HHMI. Recruited by the junior One-Thousand Talent program, he was appointed as an investigator at the Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Science in 2011 before moving to Tsinghua University and joining the Tsinghua-Peking Joint Center for Life Sciences in 2013. Guangshuo developed fluorescence live cell imaging approaches to study C. elegans larval development and developed somatic TALEN and somatic CRISPR-Cas9 techniques to generate conditional mutations in C. elegans. Guangshuo’s research interests focus on the mechanism of C. elegans neuroblast development.
Image courtesy Roy Kaltschmidt, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
Pamela Ronald is a Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology and the Genome Center at the University of California, Davis. She also serves as director of Grass Genetics at the Joint Bioenergy Institute in Emeryville, CA, and Faculty Director of the UC Davis Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy. She received a PhD from UC Berkeley, a MS in plant biology from Stanford, a MS in Plant Physiology from the University of Uppsala, Sweden, and carried out postdoctoral training at Cornell. Her laboratory has engineered rice for resistance to disease and tolerance to flooding. She and her colleagues received the USDA 2008 National Research Initiative Discovery Award for their work on rice submergence tolerance. In 2012, Pamela was awarded the Louis Malassis International Scientific Prize for Agriculture and Food and the Tech Award for innovative use of technology to benefit humanity. She is coauthor of Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food, recommended by Bill Gates as a “fantastic piece of work.”
Bob Schmitz earned his BSc in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona and his PhD in Genetics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Postdoctoral training was performed at the Salk Institute. In 2013, Bob joined the Genetics Department at the University of Georgia, where his lab is studying how phenotypic plasticity and diversity are driven by natural epigenetic variation. His lab uses a combination of molecular genetics and epigenomic approaches on plant populations to understand the impact that natural epigenetic alleles (epialleles) have on life history traits. Additionally, his lab is interested in epigenetic reprogramming mechanisms and the roles of small RNAs/DNA methylation in silencing deleterious sequences such as transposable elements.
The work of Luca Scorrano has changed classical tenets in the field of apoptosis and mitochondrial pathophysiology. He discovered the process of mitochondrial cristae remodelling that allows complete cytochrome c release and apoptosis. Since 2003, his lab has made seminal contributions to the understanding of mitochondrial dynamics and biology, from discovering a molecular staple holding cristae junctions tight, the role of ER calcium in apoptosis and the first molecular bridge between ER and mitochondria, how mitochondria control autophagy, to the link between respiratory chain assembly and cristae shape; and the paradigm-shifting notion that development is controlled by mitochondrial fusion via Notch1 signaling. Luca has received several prizes and awards, including the 2006 Eppendorf European Young Investigator award, the 2011 Chiara D’Onofrio prize and the 2013 European Society for Clinical Investigation Award, and was elected an EMBO Member in 2011. After seven years as Professor at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, in 2014, he became Chair of Biochemistry and Director of the Venetian Institute of Molecular Medicine at the University of Padua, Italy.
Yukihide Tomari is Professor at Institute of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, The University of Tokyo. After receiving his Ph.D. from The University of Tokyo in 2003, he joined Phillip Zamore’s laboratory at University of Massachusetts Medical School as a postdoc, where he started working on small RNAs. In 2006, he was appointed Assistant Professor, PI at The University of Tokyo, advanced to Associate Professor in 2009 and promoted to Professor in 2013. His laboratory is focused on dissecting the molecular mechanism and function of non-coding RNAs by combining biochemistry, biophysics, and cellular and developmental biology. For his scientific contributions, he has been awarded Japan Academy Medal and JSPS Prize in 2012.
John Wallingford began his career in developmental biology as an undergraduate Wesleyan University, and continued as PhD student at the University of Texas at Austin. During a joint postdoc with Richard Harland at the University of California, Berkeley, and Scott Fraser at Caltech, he launched a research program which seeks to understand how cellular form and function arise in developing embryos. Since returning to the University of Texas at Austin as a faculty member, his group has sought to integrate systems biology and bioinformatics with novel strategies for in vivo imaging, the ultimate aim being to understand the etiology of human developmental disorders. Professor Wallingford has received numerous teaching awards, as well as an Early Career Scientist Award from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, an Early Investigator Award from the American Asthma Foundation and a Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.
Minoru Yoshida received his PhD in 1986 from the University of Tokyo under the guidance of Professor Teruhiko Beppu, where he began mode-of-action studies on trichostatin A (TSA) and leptomycin B (LMB). He identified histone deacetylase and Crm1 exportin 1 as the specific targets of TSA and LMB, respectively, which greatly contributed to the field of epigenetics and nuclear transport. After he was promoted to Associate Professor in 1995 in the Department of Biotechnology at the University of Tokyo, he moved to RIKEN and started the Chemical Genetics Laboratory as Chief Scientist in 2002. In 2008, he was also appointed as Group Director, Chemical Genomics Research Group. Currently, he has joint appointments in the Department of Biotechnology at the University of Tokyo and Graduate School of Science and Engineering at Saitama University. At RIKEN, he identified small molecules with unique targets, including spliceostatin, an inhibitor of pre-mRNA splicing, and theonellamide, which binds sterols to cause phase separation of lipid membranes. He has received many awards, including the Sumiki-Umezawa Memorial Award (1998), a Commendation for Science and Technology by the Minister of by the Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Japan (2010), the Japan Society for Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Agrochemistry Award (2011), the Charles E. Dohme Memorial Lectureship (2012) and the Japan Academy Prize (2015).