Lungfish are considered the living fossil of the vertebrate world. Understanding the biology of lungfish contributes enormously to our understanding of vertebrate evolution.
Starting in the late 1980s, Professor Jean Joss has established the hormonal and genetic basis of development in the Australian Lungfish. Her work has ranged from characterising the activity of the lungfish pineal gland, and the genetics behind fin and head development, right through to the extraordinary large lungfish genome and its contribution to overall developmental patterns.
Her body of work (over 60 research papers on lungfish alone) has made an enormous contribution to our understanding of lungfish biology. The broader significance of her work is in recognising the natural advantage of the unique Australian fauna in addressing fundamental evolutionary questions.
Professor Joss’s research program established the first captive colony of Australian Lungfish on the campus of Macquarie University. The availability of these extremely rare animals through this colony has contributed to the establishment of Australian Lungfish in the scientific literature: over 250 articles have now been published on Australian Lungfish.
Following Professor Joss’s retirement in 2009, the colony was successfully moved to James Cook University where research continues.
Professor Joss’s work has made a significant impact on the conservation of the Australian Lungfish. In 2008, Professor Joss presented an expert report to the Federal Court of Australia in Brisbane against the plan to build the Traveston dam on Queensland’s Mary River – one of only two locations lungfish occur in the wild.
The expert report as well as Professor Joss’s extensive campaigning has contributed to halting construction of the dam and the establishment of a lungfish research centre.