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QMB Meeting, The Frontiers Of Science.

Friday August 25

QMB Meeting, The Frontiers Of Science.


More than 300 leading scientists from NZ and overseas gather in Queenstown next week (August 29 to September 1) to discuss the frontiers of molecular biology and the living cell. The Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting (QMB) is the largest conference of its kind in the country and this year will again see a stellar programme of speakers, including 2001 Nobel Prize winner for Medicine, Sir Tim Hunt.

The QMB will be followed by a new satellite conference QueST ,‘Signalling New Treatments for Disease’, from Thursday August 31 to Sunday September 3 (see separate release).

The theme of the 16th QMB is the ‘Molecular Biology of the Living Cell’. Advances in scientific technology through hugely improved microscopy and computerisation, along with the mapping of the human genome, have meant that molecular biologists are drilling ever deeper into the mechanisms of how living cells actually function in real time. These investigations of living cells are rapidly increasing our understanding of why abnormalities develop in humans, producing such diseases as cancer.

“This is the absolute sharp end of biomedical science,” says QMB Convenor Professor Jeremy Hyams of Massey University. “It’s a tremendously exciting field with rapid developments in understanding and discoveries which will make a huge difference to medicine and the economy over the next decade. “

“If you want to see and hear about the future, it’s happening right here in Queenstown with leading researchers from around the world presenting their latest discoveries. One of our speakers, for example, has startling new evidence that humans are genetically more suited to be vegetarians than meat-eaters.”

Professor Hyams says speakers will discuss how the complex and intricate pathways that regulate protein behaviour and cell division can go wrong producing a wide range of diseases. He says that the mapping of the human genome in 2001 is only the first step in understanding, and that science is still unsure about what most genes do, and what happens when they fail to operate normally.

Keynote speaker, Sir Tim Hunt from Cancer Research UK will discuss ‘The Cell Cycle and Cancer’ at the opening at 7.15 pm on Tuesday evening. He will present his research into how the normal stop/start molecular mechanisms of cell division fail with cancer tumours, allowing unrestricted and pathological cell division of cancer cells and the rapid growth of tumours.

The Minister of Research, Science and Technology, Steve Maharey will formally open the conference at 7pm. He will also meet the Invitrogen Award ($5000) winner Dr Shaun Lott from the University of Auckland, and QMB Promising Researchers Dr Lesley Collins from Massey University, and Dr Peter Dearden from the University of Otago.

Wednesday evening promises to be another highlight when scientists and politicians go head to head in The Queenstown Debate: ‘NZ Science. Have we got the balance right?’ This will focus on the future of science funding in NZ, and in particular the balance between basic and applied research. One of the speakers will be controversial UK Labour MP and former Molecular Biologist Dr Ian Gibson.

Other key presenters at QMB are:

Professor Chris Danpure. University College London.
According to our genes humans are vegetarians. That is the astonishing message from this presentation. Prof Danpure has studied the enzyme AGT in animals and found that carnivores have AGT in one cellular area, the mitochondrion, but in herbivores like sheep it is in a different area, the peroxisome. Humans are omnivores, but their AGT is in the same area as sheep and the great apes.
Professor Yoshiyuki Sakaki. Former President of the Human Genome Organisation. Japan.

In 2001 the 25,000 genes in the human genome were finally mapped. Prof Sakaki has been in charge of co-ordinating laboratories around the world in finding out what these genes do and how they link to disease. Professor Sakaki is also personally researching genetic links between chimpanzees and humans in terms of evolution and language development.

Professor Joseph Ecker. Salk Institute, San Diego, California.
An expert in plant genetics who led the team that sequenced the genome of the weed Arabidopsis which has become the model for studying plant genetics. Recent research on the plant hormone ethylene has led to the development of technologies that delay fruit ripening and disease.

Professor Bernard Ducommun. University of Toulouse, France

Professor Ducommun is part of a Group which is creating a multi-million dollar cancer centre in Europe in Toulouse, S.W. France. ‘Cancerpoles’ aim is to develop new anti-cancer drugs. Ducommun’s research is focussed on an enzyme called CDC25 which tells cancer cells to divide. Stop it and the cancer will stop growing.

Professor Zac Cande, University of California, San Francisco.

He has been researching the parasite Giardia, the bane of trampers in NZ. It may be the ‘missing link’ in the evolution of cells and may give key information on how primitive cells such as bacteria, then transform themselves over millennia into the complex cells which make up plants and animals.


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