Video | Business Headlines | Internet | Science | Scientific Ethics | Technology | Search


Professor recognised for his work about evolution of life

Canterbury professor recognised for his work about the evolution of life

July 14, 2014

University of Canterbury’s Professor Mike Steel, who is using mathematics to help biologists discover more about the evolution of life, has been recognised for his work with the university’s Research Medal.

Professor Steel is best known for his leading work in phylogenetics, or the science of reconstructing evolutionary trees and networks from genetic data. He says his research methods are used every day to study how different strains of bacteria and viruses like influenza and hepatitis are related to each other.

``They’re also used to help figure out where some newly discovered organism fits in the tree of life, or how much biodiversity is at risk from current high levels of extinction.

``Phylogenetic techniques are also starting to be applied in medical research to reconstruct the tree of cell divisions in a tumor, and in linguistics the methods are used to understand how languages developed and diverged.

``Mathematics is really essential since it gives a way of systematically exploring the huge space of possible evolutionary scenarios. Since evolution is a random process, probability models play an important role” he says.

More recently, Professor Steel has been working on models of earliest life, using mathematics and computing in new ways to investigate networks.

His research is attracting wide international interest and has led to collaborations with leaders in the field of origin of life research. The algorithms developed have also been recently applied to study metabolic pathways in bacteria.

In a light-hearted approach, Professor Steel has also given away cash prizes to help solve solutions. In the last decade he has set many mathematical challenges with $US100 for each correct solution.

``The hardest challenge took a team of three smart guys from Berkeley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology many months to find a correct proof – but eventually they did.

``The reward is really much greater than $US100 as each one of the solved questions has always led to a published paper by the solver, sometimes in a high profile journal like the Science magazine.

Professor Steel was recently named as one of four principal investigators to win a $695,000 grant for a three-year research project, Terraces, Large Trees and Trait Evolution, funded by the US-based National Science Foundation.

He is director of the Biomathematics Research Centre, hosted within Canterbury’s School of Mathematics and Statistics. He is deputy director of the Allan Wilson Centre, and a fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Between his MSc and PhD he briefly enjoyed a quite different career – completing a journalism diploma at the University of Canterbury before working as police reporter on a national Sunday newspaper.


© Scoop Media

Business Headlines | Sci-Tech Headlines


Shocking Dairy Footage: MPI Failing Our Animals And Damaging Our Reputation

Greens “Nathan Guy needs to urgently look into how his ministry is enforcing animal welfare standards, how these appalling incidents happened under its watch and what it’s going to do prevent similar incidents happening again in the future." More>>


Land & Water Forum: Fourth Report On Water Management

The Land and Water Forum (LWF) today published its fourth report, outlining 60 new consensus recommendations for how New Zealand should improve its management of fresh water and calling on the Government to urgently adopt all of its recommendations from earlier reports. More>>



Welcome Home: Record High Migration Stokes 41-Year High Population Growth

New Zealand annual net migration hit a new high in October as more people arrived from than departed for Australia for the first time in more than 20 years. More>>


Citizens' Advice Bureau: Report Shows Desperate Housing Situation Throughout NZ

CAB's in-depth analysis of over 2000 client enquiries about emergency accommodation shows vulnerable families, pregnant women and children living in cars and garages, even after seeking assistance from the Ministry of Social Development and Housing New Zealand. More>>


Get More From Scoop

Search Scoop  
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news