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Please click on the Bio button for a biosketch and photograph of each speaker.
Society Plenary Lecturers
- Lemberg Medal Award - Leann Tilley, University of Melbourne
Professor Leann Tilley studied at the University of Melbourne (BSc, Hons) and Sydney University (PhD), and undertook postdoctoral fellowships at Utrecht University, The Netherlands, College de France, Paris and the University of Melbourne, before beginning her independent career at La Trobe University 1989. She was promoted to Professor in 2004. In 2011, she returned to the University of Melbourne and is now Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry and Pharmacology, at the Bio21 Institute, University of Melbourne.
Leann's laboratory embraces a large range of technologies, such as structural cryoEM, X-ray crystallography, novel imaging technologies, molecular cell biology and chemical biology, to identify vulnerabilities in the malaria parasite and other pathogens. She is interested in the action of, and resistance to, anti-infective drugs; and is working with industry partners to design pathogen-specific compound that hijack adenylate forming enzymes. She believes that answering the major medical and biotechnology questions of the 21st century will require convergence of the life and physical sciences, with particular reliance on advanced imaging techniques and biocomputational approaches. She also believes that the development of drugs for diseases that affect patients who can't afford expensive treatments, requires radical new approaches involving academic/private/public partnerships. She would like to be part of the exciting developments in these areas.
Leann is passionate about encouraging the next generation of scientists, particularly about enhancing the roles of women in science. She believes that answering important questions requires teams of gender and culturally diverse, passionate people who provide different ideas, perspectives and backgrounds – building a collective intelligence.
Leann served as Director and Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coherent X-ray Science (CXS). This Centre received international acclaim for its cross-disciplinary and cross-institutional work and its contributions to the development of novel imaging techniques.
In 2015, Leann was awarded the Georgina Sweet Australian Laureate Fellowship from the Australian Research Council, to measure and model malaria parasites. She has played a leadership role in promoting women in science; this includes her establishing and implementing the Georgina Sweet Awards for Women in Quantitative Biomedical Science. She was honoured with the title of Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor, by the University of Melbourne in 2016.
- Shimadzu Medal Award - Michael Lazarou, Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
Associate Professor Michael Lazarou heads a laboratory focused on autophagy and mitochondrial quality control within the Ubiquitin Signalling Division at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI), and is co-affiliated with the Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University. Michael's graduate studies with Professor Mike Ryan focused on the assembly of mitochondrial protein complexes and how they break down in energy generation disorders. He developed assembly models for complex I of the oxidative phosphorylation machinery and untangled the basis of complex I assembly defects in mitochondrial disease patients. He undertook his postdoctoral studies in 2010 with Professor Richard Youle at the National Institutes of Health, USA, with the support of an NIH/NINDS postdoctoral fellowship. Here, he focused on the Parkinson's disease proteins PINK1 and Parkin and their role in maintaining mitochondrial health through mitophagy, a degradative pathway which culls damaged mitochondria. Michael's work solved how the kinase PINK1 senses mitochondrial damage, and identified PINK1's mitophagy-activating substrate, ubiquitin, while also providing critical insights into the mechanisms of Parkin's enzymatic activity. Michael was recruited to the Biomedicine Discovery Institute at Monash University in June 2014, where he established his laboratory, before moving to WEHI as a lab head in 2022. Michael's lab uses multiple imaging modalities, including AI-directed volumetric electron microscopy, combined with gene editing and biochemistry to understand the intricate mechanisms of mitophagy and mitochondrial quality control. Michael's research highlights include: solving how PINK1/Parkin mitophagy is initiated and understanding the downstream mechanisms of mitophagy involving the capture of damaged mitochondria within double membrane vesicles termed autophagosomes. His work has revealed "new paradigms for understanding the complicated mechanism that orchestrates autophagosome biogenesis" (Autophagy, 2021). He has published in Molecular and Cellular Biology, Developmental Cell, Molecular Cell, Journal of Cell Biology, Nature, Science and Nature Cell Biology. Michael's research has been supported by the NHMRC and ARC. He was the recipient of the 2013 ASBMB Boomerang Award and he held a 2017–2020 ARC Future Fellowship. He is a Council member and affiliate member of the NIH-funded Autophagy Inflammation and Metabolism Center (USA) and serves on the Editorial Board for Journal of Cell Biology 2022–2024. Michael supports the Parkinson's disease community through philanthropic and community events.
- Jan Anderson Award - Frances Sussmilch, University of Tasmania
Dr Frances Sussmilch is an ARC DECRA Fellow at the University of Tasmania and an Associate Investigator for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Plant Success in Nature and Agriculture. Since completing her PhD in molecular biology in 2014 with Assoc. Prof. Jim Weller at UTAS, she has worked in the research groups of Dr Scott McAdam and Prof. Tim Brodribb at UTAS, and Prof. Rainer Hedrich at the University of Würzburg. Dr Sussmilch was awarded the Royal Society of Tasmania’s Peter Smith Medal for outstanding early career research in 2020. She is currently establishing her own research program, funded through the ARC DECRA and Discovery Project schemes, using a range of diverse land plants to investigate the evolution of genetic mechanisms that control the opening and closure of stomatal pores and enable plants to acquire CO2 for photosynthesis but prevent excessive water loss when water is limiting.
- Peter Goldacre Award - Maria Ermakova, Australian National University
Dr. Ermakova’s research focuses on engineering photosynthesis to improve plant productivity. After receiving her PhD from University of Turku, Finland, Maria joined the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis at the Australian National University in Canberra. There she worked on genetically engineering model and crop plants, such as Setaria, sorghum, rice and tobacco, for better efficiency of light interception and conversion to biomass, with a particular interest in the bioenergetics of C4 photosynthesis. Maria’s work resulted the identification of promising traits that enhance CO2 assimilation and could help boost biomass and yield in C4 crops that are becoming increasingly important for Australian agriculture. In 2019, Maria joined the C4 Rice project, funded by the Gates Foundation, where she worked on installing a C4 metabolic pathway into rice. Maria’s work has achieved important milestones on the way to fully functional C4 Rice, that is projected to increase yields by up to 50%.
- J.G. Wood Award - Rudi Appels, University of Melbourne
Professor Rudi Appels is a plant breeder and geneticist. He completed his PhD in the Department of Biochemistry at Adelaide University in 1972 and with funding from the World Health Organisation joined the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, as a post- doctoral fellow. Rudi then returned to Australia and spent the next 27 years as a research scientist with CSIRO. He continued his plant breeding research in Perth for a further 14 years and currently holds an Honorary Professorship at the University of Melbourne. Since 2004, Rudi has been co-leader of the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium (IWGSC) which was established to compile a high quality sequence of the wheat genome.
- President’s Medal Award - Jose Polo, University of Adelaide
Jose Maria Polo was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina where he graduated from Buenos Aires University as a Biochemist. In 2002, Jose began his graduate studies at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York under the supervision of Professor Ari Melnick where he worked on lymphomagenesis and B-cell maturation. In 2008, he obtained his PhD and moved to Boston to the laboratory of Professor Konrad Hochedlinger at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute to work on reprogramming of adult cells into induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. In particular, his work focused on the acquisition of immortality and the existence of epigenetic memory during reprogramming.
In June 2011, established his independent research group at Monash University, where he holds appointments to the departments of Anatomy and Developmental Biology and to the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute. In 2012, Jose was awarded a NHMRC Career Development Fellowship, in 2014 a Silvia and Charles Viertel Senior Medical Research Fellowship and in 2018 an ARC Future Fellowship to continue his work in the molecular mechanism governing the reprogramming process and the epigenetic mechanism underpinning cell fate. In 2016, he co-founded Mogrify Ltd to translate reprogramming technologies into therapies.
In October 2021, Jose was recruited to the University of Adelaide as the inaugural Director of the Adelaide Centre for Epigenetics (ACE) and Program leader of the recently established South Australian Immunogenomics Cancer Institute (SAiGENCI). In Adelaide he will continue his work in epigenetics and its application to reprogramming, early embryogenesis and cancer.
- M.J.D. White Medal - Marianne Frommer, University of New South Wales
Marianne Frommer received her PhD, on the physical biochemistry of muscle proteins, from the University of Sydney in 1976. Following two years of teaching at Cumberland College of Health Sciences, and a career interruption for child-rearing, she took up a position as postdoctoral fellow and subsequently as senior research fellow at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney. Her laboratory was located at CSIRO Division of Biomolecular Engineering, where she carried out pioneering research on CpG islands and DNA methylation, including the invention of bisulphite sequencing. In 1994, she made a change in direction, moving to the University of Sydney, where she co-founded the Fruit Fly Research Centre. She initiated DNA molecular studies that defined the Australia-wide distribution of Queensland fruit fly and generated promising developments towards its control, including publication of the first tephritid genome sequence. She was elected as a fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2010.
- Ross Crozier Medal - Clare Holleley, CSIRO, ACT
Clare Holleley is an evolutionary biologist that specialises in historical epigenomics and the epigenetics of environmentally controlled reptile sex determination. She runs the Temporal Epigenomics Lab at the Australian National Wildlife Collection within CSIRO. Clare's team is developing cutting-edge methodologies to reveal temporal trends in the mode and tempo of epigenetic change over the last century. This work is poised to assist in the efforts to understand the biological impacts of altered climate regimes on sentinel vertebrate species such as reptiles, frogs and fish. Clare is passionate about the value of natural history collections for genomic research and is a vocal advocate for the integration of historical insight into contemporary ecological and disease research. Clare has attracted over $4mill in competitive funding, published 50 papers including Science and Nature, and is known for her scientific communication and outreach efforts.
ASBMB Education Plenary
- Merlin Crossley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic and Student Life, University of New South Wales
Merlin Crossley has a distinguished record as an academic who has contributed to teaching, research, administration, and community engagement. He has always enjoyed and recognised the importance of inspiring teaching. In 2016 he became Deputy Vice-Chancellor Academic and Student Life at the University of New South Wales, having previously served as Dean of Science. Prior to that he held positions at the University of Sydney, Harvard, and Oxford. He supports science communication as Chair of the Editorial Board of The Conversation, Deputy Director of the Australian Science Media Centre (AusSMC), Chair of the UNSW Press Board, and is an Honorary Associate of the Australian Museum, having previously served several years on the Trust. In recognition of his work for the museum a new species of iridescent squid was named after him Iridoteuthis merlini. He has also held roles on the ASBMB Council and currently uses social media, blogging and twitter, to engage with and help build the community of scientists and interested citizens.
International Plenary Speakers
We are delighted that all of our International Plenary speakers remain committed to ComBio despite the two year delay. The majority will be attending in person, however, with pressing schedules, some will be opting to present virtually*. These presentations will be conducted live, and followed by good opportunity for questions and discussion.
- Siobhan Brady, University of California, Davis, CA, USA
Siobhan Brady received her PhD at the University of Toronto in 2005, and was a Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at Duke University from 2005 – 2008. In 2009 she began at the University of California, Davis in the Department of Plant Biology and in the Genome Center and became a Professor in 2020. In 2016 she was named as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Faculty Research Scholar. Research in the Brady lab focuses on the global regulation of gene expression and its contribution to root morphology and development in Arabidopsis thaliana, Solanum species, Sorghum bicolor and maize.
- Jamie Cate*, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
Dr. Cate has had a longstanding interest in understanding how the ribosome translates the genetic code into proteins. His lab studies human translation, focusing on the role of human translation initiation factor eIF3 and on ribosome stalling mechanisms. Using biochemical and structural biology, his lab has revealed fundamental mechanisms of human translation initiation, including the discovery of a 5'-m7G mRNA cap-binding activity in human eIF3 and eIF3-mediated regulation of specific mRNAs. His lab also revealed a new molecular mechanism of action for small molecules that can selectively stall protein synthesis on the human ribosome, in collaboration with Pfizer. Dr. Cate received his Ph.D. from the Department of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University. After a Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Research Fund Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of California, Santa Cruz, he joined the faculty of MIT as an Associate Member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. He is now Professor of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Structural Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. His research has been recognized with a Searle Scholar Award, AAAS Newcomb Cleveland Prize, and the Irving Sigal Young Investigator Award from The Protein Society. He is also a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
- Jennifer Doudna*, University of California, Berkeley, CA, USA
Jennifer Doudna, PhD is a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley. Her groundbreaking development of CRISPR-Cas9 — a genome engineering technology that allows researchers to edit DNA — with collaborator Emmanuelle Charpentier earned the two the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and forever changed the course of human and agricultural genomics research. She is also the Founder of the Innovative Genomics Institute, the Li Ka Shing chancellor's chair in Biomedical and Health Sciences, and a member of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, Gladstone Institutes, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She is a leader in the global public debate on the responsible use of CRISPR and has co-founded and serves on the advisory panel of several companies that use the technology in unique ways. Doudna is the co-author of "A Crack in Creation", a personal account of her research and the societal and ethical implications of gene editing.
- Niko Geldner, Université de Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland
Niko Geldner studied biology at the Universities of Mainz, Bordeaux 2 and Tübingen. He did his PhD in the lab of Gerd Juergens, working Arabidopsis embryogenesis and auxin transport. He then went as an EMBO and HFSP fellow to Joanne Chory at the Salk Insitute in La Jolla, California, working on endosomal trafficking of the BRI1 recepter and developing the WAVE sub-cellular compartment markers. In 2007 he started as an Assistant Professor at the University of Lausanne and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2012 and Full Professor in 2018. He was awarded a starting and consolidator grant of the European Research Council (ERC) in 2007 and 2013. In 2011 he became an EMBO Young Investigator and was elected EMBO member in 2017.
- Wolfgang Haak, Max Planck Institute, Germany
Wolfgang Haak is a Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Genetics in Germany. He works at the interface of ancient human genomics, archaeology, anthropology, medical sciences, forensics and linguistics.
He did his PhD at the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, where he studied Anthropology, Paleontology and Pre- and Protohistory. In 2007 he joined the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide as a postdoc leading the ancient human DNA group of National Geographic's The Genographic Project. He returned to Germany in 2015 heading the Molecular Anthropology Group, first at the Max-Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Jena, and since 2020 in Leipzig, Germany. He is mostly known for analyzing ancient human genome-wide data in the light of data from neighboring disciplines such as archaeology and anthropology to generate a detailed and comprehensive portrait of human prehistory over the last 20,000 years. His research portfolio ranges from global outlooks on population affinities, prehistoric human migrations and past demography to intra-group relationships, which also encompasses human health, evolution of diseases, and interaction and response to changing climates, environments and diets.
- Tony Hunter, Salk Institute, California, USA
Tony Hunter received his BA and PhD from the University of Cambridge, England, and completed postdoctoral training at the Salk Institute. In 1979, he discovered a new class of protein kinases that phosphorylates tyrosine residues in proteins, and demonstrated that dysregulated tyrosine phosphorylation by activated tyrosine kinases causes malignant transformation. His work and that others has shown that aberrant tyrosine phosphorylation is causal in several types of human cancer, and this has led to successful development of inhibitors that target disease-causing tyrosine kinases (TKIs), such as Gleevec, a BCR-ABL inhibitor used for treatment of chronic myelogenous leukemia. Currently, 38 TKIs are approved for clinical use in the treatment of cancer and other diseases. Most recently, he has been studying histidine phosphorylation of proteins, and has generated monoclonal antibodies specific for the 1- and 3- phosphohistidine isoforms, and used these to uncover a role for histidine phosphorylation in liver cancer.
- Cynthia Kenyon, Calico Life Sciences LLC, South San Francisco, CA, USA
Cynthia Kenyon is Vice President, Aging Research, at Calico and expert on the genetics of aging. In 1993, Cynthia's discovery that a single-gene mutation could double the lifespan of the roundworm C. elegans has led to a new understanding of the genetics of aging. She has received many honors and awards for her findings. Cynthia graduated valedictorian in chemistry and biochemistry from the University of Georgia in 1976. She received her PhD from MIT in 1981, and then did postdoctoral studies with Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, UK. From 1986 she was at the University of California, San Francisco, where she was the Herbert Boyer Distinguished Professor and an American Cancer Society Professor. In 2014 she joined Calico. She is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine and she is a past president of the Genetics Society of America.
- Cristina Lo Celso*, Imperial College London, London, UK
Dr Lo Celso graduated from Torino University in Italy. She obtained her PhD from UCL, working with Fiona Watt at the CRUK London Research Institute, where she studied epidermal stem cells. She started performing intravital microscopy of the haematopoietic stem cell (HSC) niche during her postdoctoral training at Harvard University with David Scadden. In 2009 she started her independent research group at Imperial College London, where she is now a reader in the department of Life Sciences, and network lead of the Imperial Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine Network. Dr Lo Celso recently established a satellite laboratory at the Sir Francis Crick Institute. Her research aims to understand the mechanisms regulating HSC function during steady state and during stress, such as infections, leukaemia and transplantation. Her interdisciplinary approach combines mouse bone marrow intravital microscopy techniques, computational image analysis, molecular profiling and mathematical modelling of the HSC niche. Dr Lo Celso is the first woman to receive the Foulkes Medal award (2017). She received the ISEH New Investigator award in 2017, presented the DGZ Carl Zeiss Lecture 2018 and was awarded the Royal Microscopial Society Life Sciences medal 2019.
- Jodi Nunnari, University of California, Davis, USA
Jodi Nunnari is a pioneer in the field of mitochondrial biology. She was the first to describe the organelle as a dynamic network in homeostatic balance and decipher the mechanisms of the machines responsible for mitochondrial division and fusion. Nunnari was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, and studied chemistry at the College of Wooster before attaining a Ph.D. in pharmacology from Vanderbilt University. She was a postdoctoral fellow with Peter Walter at the University of California, San Francisco and joined the faculty at the University of California, Davis in The College of Biological Science in The Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology in 1996. Nunnari was named Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Cell Biology in 2015, becoming the first woman to serve in this position. She is a member of the the American Society for Cell Biology, and served as the Society's president in 2018. In 2017, Nunnari was elected as a member of the National Academy of Sciences..
- Roy Parker*, University of Colorado, Boulder, USA
Roy Parker is an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Cech-Leinwand Endowed Chair of Biochemistry and Distinguished Professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, San Francisco and completed his Postdoctoral work at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester. He has been on the editorial boards of MCB, Science, Cell, RNA, and Nucleic Acids Research. He was the President of the RNA Society (2010), and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences (2010) and the National Academy of Sciences (2012).
- Daniel St Johnston, Gurdon Institute, Cambridge, UK
Daniel St Johnston did his Ph. D. at Harvard, where he cloned the dorsal-ventral patterning gene decapentaplegic. He then spent three years as a postdoc with Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard at the Max Planck Institute in Tübingen, before moving to the Wellcome /Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute at the University of Cambridge, where he is now a Wellcome Principal Research Fellow and Professor of Developmental Genetics. He is a member of EMBO (1997), a Fellow of the Royal Society (2005) and the Academy of Medical Sciences (2004) and was awarded the EMBO Gold Medal in 2000. He spent his early career analysing the first asymmetries in development that polarize the body axes in Drosophila. This has led him to investigate how cells become polarised, how polarity controls the organisation of the cytoskeleton and how the polarised cytoskeleton is used to target components to the correct place in the cell. Much of his current work uses advanced imaging approaches and genetics to study the development of apical-basal polarity in epithelial cells with the aim of understanding how cortical polarity factors control spindle ortientation, polarized secretion and the positioning of intercellular junctions in absorptive and secretory epithelia.
- Emma Teeling*, University College Dublin, Ireland
Prof. Prof. Emma Teeling is an international leader in the cross-cutting fields of mammalian phylogenetics and comparative genomics, with particular expertise in bat biology. She established the Laboratory of Molecular Evolution and Mammalian Phylogenetics in 2005, is a Founding Director of the genome consortium Bat1K and the Full Professor of Zoology at University College Dublin, Ireland.
Prof. Teeling's integrative research in the fields of zoology, phylogenetics and genomics uncovers the genetic signatures of survival that enables species to adapt to an ever-changing environment. The two mains-goals of her research are: (1) study unique model species to better understand the molecular basis of mammalian adaptations to inform medicine and molecular biology; (2) understand and thereafter conserve, natural populations. She has pioneered and leads global research into the development of bats as new models for healthy ageing and disease tolerance. She has been awarded prestigious personal grants to pursue this research- European Research Council (ERC) Starting grant (2013-2018), a Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), President of Ireland Young Researcher Award (2006-2012), an Irish Research Council (IRC) Laureate Award (2018-2022), and an SFI Future Frontiers Award (2020-2025).
- Lisette Waits, University of Idaho, Idaho, USA
Lisette Waits is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of Fish and Wildlife Sciences at the University of Idaho. She has a BS in Genetics from University of Georgia and PhD in Genetics from University of Utah where she studied the phylogenetics and population genetics of grizzly bears. She has been a leader in the fields of conservation genetics and molecular ecology with particular focus on developing methods for noninvasive genetic monitoring of wildlife and landscape genetics. Her research has focused on using genetic methods to study over 30 different wildlife species in North America, Central America, South America, Europe and Asia, and she has published over 250 papers. She is an elected fellow of The Wildlife Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She currently serves on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Conservation Genetics North American Working Group and the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums Conservation Genetics Working Group.