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Young Scientists Win Awards

Thursday August 31 2006

Young Scientists Win Awards For Innovative Research At QMB

Dr Peter Dearden, Otago University, Minister of Research, Science and Technology, Steve Maharey, Dr Shaun Lott, University of Auckland, Dr Lesley Collins, Massey University

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University of Auckland scientist, Dr Shaun Lott, has scooped the pool at this year’s Queenstown Molecular Biology Meeting winning the $5000 Invitrogen Life Science Award for his research investigating the function of proteins from the bacterium that causes TB, and the proteins that control salt uptake in the kidneys.

QMB (August 29 to September 1) is the major annual meeting on molecular science in NZ with over 300 attendees from this country and overseas. In 2006 QMB is focussing on the Molecular Biology of the Living Cell

Dr Lott will be presented with the Award on Thursday afternoon and will give an address on his ground-breaking research which illustrates how a detailed picture of the three-dimensional structure of proteins can explain the way in which they work, and is the starting point for design of new chemical compounds that will form the basis of tomorrow’s drugs for treating diseases such as TB.

“I was very pleasantly surprised to win the QMB Invitrogen Award, and am appreciative that the committee has recognised internationally competitive research which is being carried out in New Zealand,” he says.

Dr Lott’s research is focussed on the area of structural biology which seeks to visualise the basic components of life, such as proteins and DNA, with atomic accuracy. This has traditionally been a glacially slow process, but the recent development of high throughput techniques has allowed the rapid analysis of hundreds of proteins, greatly accelerating research in this area.

The practical applications have huge possibilities. A detailed knowledge of protein structure is very often one of the first steps in the development of new drugs, and can also help us to understand important biological processes, such as how a bacterium causes disease.

Dr Lott completed his PhD at the University of Leeds UK, a post-doctorate at Massey University, and is now a Senior Lecturer in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Auckland.

The two QMB Promising Researcher Awards went to Dr Lesley Collins from Massey University, and Dr Peter Dearden from the University of Otago.

Dr Collins is working on the underlying cell biology ancestral to modern eukaryotic cells, including animals, fungi, plants and parasites. She is particularly interested in how ancestral cells evolve from the past to the present to understand more about how life can adapt to environmental and other changes at the genetic level.

Dr Peter Dearden leads the Laboratory for Evolution and Development at the University of Otago. He has been studying the genetic control of development of honeybees and comparing that with the well-studied fruit fly. The aim is to investigate the complex pathways which control development, to understand how the differences between these animals has arisen, and how they have evolved.

ENDS

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