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

 

Must Sell 20 Petrol Stations: Z Cleared To Buy Caltex Assets

Z Energy is allowed to buy the Caltex and Challenge! petrol station chains but must sell 19 of its retail sites and one truck-stop, the Commerce Commission has ruled in a split decision that acknowledges possible retail price coordination between fuel retailers occurs in some regions. More>>

ALSO:

Huntly: Genesis Extends Life Of Coal-Fuelled Power Station To 2022

Genesis Energy will keep its two coal and gas-fired units at Huntly Power Station operating until 2022, having previously said they'd be closed by 2018, after wringing a high price from other electricity generators who wanted to keep them as back-up. More>>

ALSO:

Dammed If You Do: Ruataniwha Irrigation Scheme Hits Farmer Uptake Targets

Enough Hawke's Bay farmers have signed up for water from the proposed Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme for it to go ahead as long as a cornerstone institutional capital investor can be found to back it, its regional council promoter announced. More>>

ALSO:

Reserve Bank: OCR Stays At 2.25%

Reserve Bank governor Graeme Wheeler kept the official cash rate at 2.25 percent, in a decision traders had said could go either way, while predicting inflation will pick up as the slump in oil prices washes out of the data and capacity pressures start to build in the economy. More>>

ALSO:

Export Values Down: NZ Posts Biggest Annual Trade Deficit In 7 Years

New Zealand has recorded its biggest annual trade deficit since April 2009, reflecting weaker prices of agricultural commodities such as dairy products, beef and lamb, and increased imports of vehicles and machinery. More>>

ALSO:

Currency Events: NZ's New $5 Note Wins International Banknote Award

New Zealand’s new Brighter Money $5 note has been named Banknote of the Year in a prestigious international competition. The $5 note was awarded the IBNS Banknote of the Year title at the International Bank Note Society’s annual meeting. More>>

ALSO:

Get More From Scoop

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Sci-Tech
Search Scoop  
 
 
Powered by Vodafone
NZ independent news