Department of Molecular Sciences
Department of Molecular Sciences
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Molecular Solutions for Global Challenges
The Department of Molecular Sciences (MolSci@MQ) is a research intensive department of academics and students who study and teach chemistry and molecular cell sciences. The focus of our academics is at the exciting molecular science interfaces with chemistry, biology and materials. Our students gain cross-disciplinary perspectives while developing discipline specific skills in chemistry and biomolecular science.
We apply this philosophy of studying “molecules to cells” to achieve a sustainable environment, understand health and disease, develop materials and advance new molecular technologies.
Research and teaching strength in molecular science includes analytical chemistry, biochemistry, biotechnology, cellular biology, medicinal chemistry, microbiology, molecular biology and genomics, synthetic biology, organic/inorganic synthesis, proteomics, protein chemistry, physical chemistry.
The Department of Molecular Sciences success stories
The Department of Molecular Sciences has a proud history of success. From pioneering the science of proteomics, the breeding ground for burgeoning biotechnology companies, through to being a leading PhD industrial training centre molecular technologies for the food industry.
Synthetic Biology and the Global Yeast 2.0 consortium
The global Yeast 2.0 consortium is on track to producing a Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain with an entirely synthetic, highly versatile genome by the end of 2017. The synthetic strain is the work of a collaboration with nine other institutions including New York University, Tsinghua University, Imperial College, Edinburgh University and the University of Singapore. Macquarie University is responsible for the construction of two chromosomes, synXIV and synXVI. These chromosomes are now fully assembled and are entering the QC and testing phases of the yeast strains produced.
The real utility of this project comes from the SCRaMbLE system. This system utilizes the strategic integration of LoxP sites throughout the synthetic genome for inducible random rearrangement including duplications, deletions and gene inversions. The resulting scrambled population can then be screened for improved phenotypic characteristics. This technique is currently being employed for the development of a superior cellulolytic strain by scrambling in a variety of cellulase gene expression cassettes. Macquarie is also collaborating closely with the Australian Wine Research Institute in applied directions of Yeast 2.0.
Since inception of Yeast 2.0, Macquarie University has placed strategic importance on this emerging field and is now expert in the design, build, test paradigm of Synthetic Biology and has positioned itself for genome construction and organism engineering to service the academic and industrial segments. Research in the growing Synthetic Biology group has projects centered on the optimisation of microbes as factories, including engineering of synthetic cellular compartments and rewiring the secretory pathway; Engineering strains for high-value molecule production and utilization of alternative carbon sources; and building tools to aid the rapid screening of engineered strains.
Pioneering the science of proteomics - from concept to practice
In 1994, Macquarie University PhD student biochemist Marc Wilkins coined the term “proteome” to describe the protein complement of the genome. This term is now recognised in contemporary biochemistry and fields beyond. Of the back of this a new science was born, with Macquarie University researchers having significant influence in propelling the field forward. The Australian Proteome Analysis Facility was established in 1995 as a Commonwealth Major National Research Facility and has been conducting collaborative proteomic research and services for the past 20 years. During this time thousands of researchers in academia and industry have utilised APAF to investigate aspects of the proteome. A spin-out company of the University, Proteome Systems Ltd helped with the industrialisation of proteomics for applied research.
See Williams, K.L., Gooley, A.A., Wilkins, M.R., Packer, N.H.(2014) A Sydney proteome story. Journal of Proteomics 107:13-23. Review.
“This is the story of the experience of a multidisciplinary group at Macquarie University in Sydney as we participated in, and impacted upon, major currents that washed through protein science as the field of Proteomics emerged. The large scale analysis of proteins became possible. This is not a history of the field. Instead we have tried to encapsulate the stimulating personal ride we had transiting from conventional academe, to a Major National Research Facility, to the formation of Proteomics company Proteome Systems Ltd. There were lots of blind alleys, wrong directions, but we also got some things right and our efforts, along with those of many other groups around the world, did change the face of protein science. While the transformation is by no means yet complete, protein science is very different from the field in the 1990s.”
The NISEP story
“Can you help us help our youth?” This was the request made by Aboriginal Elders of northern NSW in October 2014 of Macquarie University scientists as a result of their concern over the youth in their communities not completing their High School studies. This simple request is what led to the establishment of the National Indigenous Science Education Program (NISEP) in MQMS in partnership with these Elders. Using science as an engagement tool, NISEP aims to give youth from low SES regions, especially Indigenous youth, the motivation, confidence and skills to complete their secondary education, and initiate positive career and higher education pathways. Key aspects of NISEP include the long-term commitment and mentoring by university scientists of the students over their high school studies, providing role models at the secondary and tertiary level and promoting science study and career opportunities. Starting from a small northern NSW-centred Macquarie University program, NISEP has steadily grown into a unique consortium of university, school, Aboriginal community, science and Indigenous outreach partners that places around 100 Indigenous secondary students in leadership roles each year and engages with around 2000 secondary students annually. Independent focus group interviews of Aboriginal Elders, school staff, parents, carers and the students have consistently suggested that there have been transformative processes within the schools and community.
The innovation and value of NISEP has been recognised by various awards and distinctions including (but not limited to) the 2007 Macquarie University Innovation in Partnership Award, and a 2008 Macquarie University Community Engagement Award. In 2018, NISEP was a runner up for the St George Foundation Inspire Grant, with $50,000 awarded to sustainably expand NISEP. It was also shortlisted for BHERT Community Engagement Award.
Fruit Fly Biosecurity
The Department of Molecular Sciences staff are members of a large collaborative group engaged in research on controlling and monitoring fruit fly populations. The main aim of the project is to strengthen Australia’s biosecurity through the management of Queensland fruit fly (Qfly) through the sterile insect technique (SIT), but other fruit fly species and other control mechanisms are also being investigated. Australia has been heavily reliant on synthetic, primarily organophosphate, insecticides to protect crops, but these are now banned for many uses. Environmentally benign alternatives are needed urgently. MQMS chemists are developing new, more effective, lure compounds that can be used to draw the flies away from the fruit and trap, and kill them. They are also investigating the pheromone profile of fruit flies to better understand the relationships between pheromones of different species and differences in pheromone profiles of wild and cultured fruit flies.
Substantial funding has come through an agreement between Horticulture Innovation Australia (HIA) and Macquarie University, to the value of $20.5m over five years, which is in addition to other HIA grants worth in the order of $3m. Other funding has come through the establishment of an Industrial Transformation Training Centre for Fruit Fly Biosecurity Innovation ($3.7m). Other partners include the New Zealand Institute for Plant & Food Research (NZ PFR), the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI), Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Queensland University of Technology, Western Sydney University, the Queensland Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry (QDAFF), and Ecogrow Environmental Pty Ltd.