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Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting

Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting

Wednesday November 24 2004

Explorers From The Frontiers Of Science Reveal Latest International Biotech Research

Leading international biotechnology researchers from the frontline of Science will gather next week for the 14th Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting (QMB) from November 28 to December 1, one of the most significant annual scientific meetings in New Zealand.

Over 220 scientists, many international experts in their field, will reveal the latest developments in the fast-developing world of Molecular Biology. The growth of biotechnology world-wide, one of the keystones of the knowledge economy, has been underpinned by half a century of innovative research in the relatively new science of Molecular Biology. This research finally resulted in the mapping of the human genome in 2001, a major breakthrough in enhanced understanding of disease and the development of all life forms.

The QMB is particularly exciting because it covers issues such as beating antibiotic resistance, understanding enhanced fertility, blocking Alzheimers and Parkinson’s with anti-inflammatory drugs, horizontal gene transfer, the use of IT in the new Biology and how stress affects cells.

“This year’s meeting is about molecular mechanisms in cell biology, and will produce a range of fascinating stories from over 20 international scientists and N.Z. researchers. The focus will be on understanding how cells behave when healthy or diseased, with applications for medicine and agriculture,” says Convenor, Dr Julian Eaton-Rye.

Molecular Biology, the study of chemical processes that underpin all life and cells, dates back to the 1940’s when it was discovered that DNA was the carrier of genetic information. Since then scientists have worked to uncover the secrets of DNA and the genome, and to use this for medical, plant and animal applications.

Molecular Biology is not about white-coated scientists hidden away in laboratories, but is revealing exciting and vital discoveries which affect our lives and the economy. This is an area in which many developed countries are investing heavily. Just a few examples are:

DNA fingerprinting in forensic sciences DNA diagnostics to identify micro-organisms for food safety. DNA diagnostics for identification and treatment of diseases in humans, animals and plants. DNA use for plant and animal breeding to select best strains and improve production.

More recently Molecular Biologists have been making major gains in gene therapy for disease, the modification of the expression of genes to understand how they work, and to confer new properties on an organism. Biotechnology is also used extensively for very practical purposes in such areas as food processing, and the production of specialised molecules on a large scale for therapeutic uses, e.g. insulin in treatment of diabetes

The Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting attracts leading international scientists, acting as a magnet for the entire Molecular Biology research community in N.Z. Its continuing success arises from the cross fertilisation of ideas, and the sharing of scientific methodology, over a range of research areas in the animal, human and plant sciences.

Some of the highlights at the three day international Meeting are:

Professor Kerry O’Banion. University of Rochester Medical School, New York. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s are conditions which have serious health effects on thousands of New Zealanders. Neurologist, Professor O’Banion, is a world leader in using drugs to treat Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and brain inflammation from acute brain injury after accidents. His latest studies focus on the molecular pathways which can be blocked by drugs, thus reducing or preventing brain disorders like Alzheimer’s where inflammation is a common process.

Dr Thomas Proft. Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, Auckland University. Thomas has made remarkable progress in understanding how ‘superbugs’, such as the antiobiotic resistant MRSA and the flesh-eating bacteria group A Streptococcus, invade the immune system and cause the potentially fatal condition called toxic shock. Toxic shock nearly killed TV presenter Lana CocKroft. The structure of the superantigen toxins produced by ‘superbugs’ has been solved by Dr Proft and his colleagues, allowing scientists to mutate the superantigens and control toxicity. This may eventually lead to a vaccine or new ways of treating cancer. Dr Proft is this year’s winner of the $7000 Invitrogen QMB Award for his research achievements.

Professor Jeff Errington. University of Oxford, UK An international expert in antibiotic resistant bacteria, which is of growing concern to medical science. Professor Errington talks eloquently on this subject, and on his reasearch into the shape of bacteria and how this is controlled by proteins on the inside of the cell walls. Cell walls are the target of key antibiotics such as pencillin, cephalosporins and vancomycin. Understanding the cell wall is crucial in the battle against the growing health risks of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Dr Jennifer Juengel. AgResearch, Wallaceville, Upper Hutt Jennifer is researching sheep which have unusually high ovulation rates and thus increased lamb production. These elevated rates are caused by genetic mutations. This has led to a revolution in thinking about ovulation and exceptional fertility in all mammals. Further studies suggest that an unusual regulatory pathway affects these animals. Understanding these pathways is vital for the development of new fertility drugs, illustrating the cross-over between animal and human research.

Professor Janet Thornton. Director European Bioinformatics Institute, Hinxton, Cambridge, UK. We now have access to the blueprint for life through the unravelling of the genome, not only for humans but increasingly other species. However this is producing a deluge of new biological information about genetics, and the interactions between molecules in the cell. This avalanche of information is the ‘new Biology’. It can only be controlled and analysed by computers and computer modelling or Bioinformatics. Professor Thornton is an international authority in using Bioinformatics to investigate how enzymes/proteins work, change shape, interact and regulate the development of bacteria. EBI is funded at approximately $28m per year by the EU and UK for this ground-breaking work.

For the full range of key speakers, programme, and further information on the Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting visit Abstracts are available beforehand from the Meeting Convenor.


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