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.

ends

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
Business Headlines | Sci-Tech Headlines

 

Fossils: Ancient Penguins Lived Alongside Dinosaurs?

Penguins are much older than previously thought and their evolution probably dates back to the days of the dinosaurs, according to research on the fossilised leg bone and toes of a giant ancient penguin found in rocks near Waipara, North Canterbury. More>>

No Voda/Sky: Commission Declines Clearance For Merger

The Commerce Commission has declined to grant clearance for the proposed merger of Sky Network Television and Vodafone New Zealand. More>>

ALSO:

EARLIER:

Power: IEA Report On New Zealand's Energy System

Outside of its largely low-carbon power sector, managing the economy’s energy intensity and greenhouse gas emissions while still remaining competitive and growing remains a challenge. More>>

ALSO:

NASA: Seven Earth-Size Planets Around A Single Star

NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope has revealed the first known system of seven Earth-size planets around a single star. Three of these planets are firmly located in the habitable zone, the area around the parent star where a rocky planet is most likely to have liquid water. More>>

ALSO:

Auckland Transport Case: Men Guilty Of Corruption And Bribery Will Spend Time In Jail

Two men who were found guilty of corruption and bribery in a Serious Fraud Office (SFO) trial have been sentenced in the Auckland High Court today... The pair are guilty of corruption and bribery offences relating to more than $1 million of bribes which took place between 2005 and 2013 at Rodney District Council and Auckland Transport. More>>

ALSO:

Hager Raid: Westpac Wrong To Release Bank Records To Police

The Privacy Commissioner has censured Westpac Banking Corp for releasing without a court order more than 10 months of bank records belonging to the political activist and journalist Nicky Hager during a police investigation into leaked information published in Hager's 2014 pre-election book, 'Dirty Politics'. More>>

ALSO:

EARLIER:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sci-Tech
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news