Bees, brains and mutated blooms: new Future Fellows announced

25 July 2014

Three of Macquarie’s leading researchers have been given a boost in research funding this week, with the Minister for Education, the Hon. Christopher Pyne MP, announcing $115 million for 150 fellowships under the Australian Research Council’s (ARC) Future Fellowships scheme.

“Drs Barron, Klein and Lanfear are some of our most promising researchers,” said Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Sakkie Pretorius. “Their groundbreaking work is also unique for its interdisciplinary nature across biological science, neuroscience, philosophy and genetics.”

The Future Fellowships scheme promotes research in areas of critical national importance by supporting outstanding mid-career researchers to conduct their research in Australia.

“It is crucial that we provide support for the nation’s most highly qualified mid-career researchers. We need to ensure that Australia’s best minds stay in this great country to do their research, which in turn bolsters our capacity to innovate,” Mr Pyne said.

Dr Andrew B Barron: How animal minds work

Truly understanding how the brain operates is a grand challenge of 21st century neuroscience. Progress toward this goal can be made through studying small-brained animals, like the honey bee.

This project aims to use microscopy and pharmacology to analyse the neural mechanisms by which bees learn and classify complex things. This will enable the construction of a computational model of decision making in the bee brain. Analysing this model will test what is understood about the operation of the animal brain, and what simulates it. This project aims to reveal how neural circuits make complex decisions; establish key principles and foundational studies for comprehending larger more complex brains, and yield new approaches to machine learning.

Dr Colin Klein: Changing your mind by changing your brain: An interventionist perspective on cognitive neuroscience

Functional neuroimaging provides a tremendous amount of information about the brain, but what it shows about the mind is less clear. Addressing this fundamental philosophical question requires developing a detailed account of theory-testing in cognitive neuroscience.

This project aims to connect neuroimaging to theories of explanation that focus on the way one variable can make a difference to another. By linking neuroimaging to facts about manipulable relationships between the brain and the mind, it will also provide a bridge between neuroimaging and complementary technologies for directly intervening on the brain. This, in turn, will provide a platform from which to explore the theoretical and ethical consequences of direct brain manipulation.

Dr Robert Lanfear: Understanding somatic mutation in plants: new methods, new software, new data

Somatic mutations accumulate as plants grow, affecting everything from short-term ecological interactions to long-term evolutionary dynamics. These mutations have important consequences for plant industry and conservation, but because they are so hard to measure almost nothing is known about them.

This project aims to develop new methods and software to detect, analyse, and compare the genome-wide history of somatic mutation in individual plants, providing an unprecedented level of detail into an important but understudied source of biological variation. By applying these methods to an iconic experimental population, this project aims to provide the first insights into the genome-wide causes and consequences of somatic mutation in plants.

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