Professor wins top science prize

La Trobe University geneticist and Distinguished Professor Jenny Graves AO has been awarded Australia’s most coveted science prize - the $250,000 Prime Minister’s Prize for Science.

Professor Graves is the first La Trobe academic to win the award. She is also the first woman to be individually recognised by this prize. It places her in outstanding company; previous winners include Australian scientists who helped eradicate smallpox, developed the wireless internet and developed the first cancer vaccine.

Jenny’s research uses the genetic diversity of Australia’s unique mammals to make discoveries that have shed new light on the genetic function and evolution of mammals, including humans.

In her five decades of work she has kick-started genomic and epigenetic research in Australia, mapped the genomes of the kangaroo and platypus, and predicted the eventual disappearance of the male chromosome.

Professor Graves said she was honoured to receive Australia’s top science prize.

“I’m thrilled to receive such an important prize. I see it as recognition that ‘blue sky’ research is the cornerstone of true innovation, and as recognition that our native Australian animals are a goldmine of new discoveries,” Professor Graves said.

“Our wonderfully unique fauna of Australia have delivered often unexpected and surprising discoveries which have revealed how human sex genes work, their origin, and their future.

“I’m proud to have worked with so many talented and passionate scientists over the years. Young students and experts, men and women, all over the world.”

La Trobe Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar congratulated Professor Graves on her achievement.
“Everyone at La Trobe is delighted that Jenny has been recognised for her life-long dedication to science and inquiry. She has worked passionately for many years and has made a lasting contribution to human knowledge.

“Jenny has been a role model and mentor for many generations of scientists. She is an inspiration to future scientists, particularly young women. Her global contribution to the understanding of evolutionary genetics and sex determination in humans is extraordinary,” Professor Dewar said.

Professor Graves will be presented with the prize by Prime Minister the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull MP at a black-tie dinner in the Great Hall of Parliament House in Canberra on 18 October 2017.

About Professor Graves’ research

Professor Graves’ research uses the genetic diversity of Australia’s unique mammals such as the kangaroo, emu and platypus to study how the mammal genome works and how it evolved.

Australia’s pouched and egg-laying mammals are a fantastic source of genetic variation because they last shared a common ancestor with placental mammals so long ago. They are truly independent experiments in mammalian evolution.

Her life’s work has used marsupials and monotremes, birds and lizards, to understand the complexity of the human genome and to reveal new human genes.

She has transformed our understanding of how sex chromosomes work and how they evolved, predicting the decline of the Y chromosome.

Her research has contributed to a deeper understanding of many human genes, including those of the immune system, prion diseases and blood proteins. Her work helps to understand the tumour driving the Tasmanian devil to extinction.

In a collaboration between La Trobe University and The University of Canberra, she is studying how bearded dragons change sex in response to temperature, a critical issue as the climate warms, and a model for how the environment influences gene function.

Professor Jenny Graves AO Biographical information.

Read more on the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.

For media enquiries contact Claire Bowers, +61 437 279 903, email: c.bowers@latrobe.edu.au

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