Growing flowers, shrinking people

Growing flowers, shrinking people

11 Jun 2008

La Trobe University research to improve community health – including a novel method of tackling obesity – and assist key agriculture and horticulture industries has received federal government support totalling almost $600,000 in the latest round of Australian Research Council Linkage grants.

Sugar to keep trim

Consumption of refined sugar is a main contributor to obesity and metabolic diseases, costing the Australian health system billions of dollars annually. Research led by neuroscientist Dr Richard Weisinger is now exploring the potential of using a waste product from sugar cane refining to reduce body fat and insulin resistance.

Refined sugar, says Dr Weisinger, is calorie rich but nutrition poor. Molasses is a significant waste stream of the sugar cane industry and is a very rich source of polyphenols – different from those found in tea, cocoa or red wine, which are often touted for their anti-oxidant qualities.

'If, as our preliminary research has indicated, these polyphenols can be made to play a useful role, this will have enormous implications for human health and disease, and for the sugar industry, providing it with a competitive edge in world markets.'

The project is being carried out in collaboration with Horizon Science Pty Ltd, a company specialising in the development of low GI sugar.

The results of another study by Dr Weisinger's research team, based on an animal model, has identified a gene commonly associated with the regulation of blood pressure that may be involved in the development of obesity and diabetes. This work was published recently in the prestigious US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. See more details in the latest issue of The Bulletin)

Contact: Dr Weisinger, tel: 03 9479 2257 email:

Blue roses for a red lady

Demand for new colours and varieties of cut flowers underpins the multi-billion dollar global floriculture industry. To help develop such flowers, botany researchers Dr Tony Gendall and Professor Roger Parish are helping increase our understanding of the factors that regulate flower colour.

Originally concerned with how plants cope with rising salt, a question vital to agriculture, Dr Gendall says plants seem to quarantine salt by pumping it into the vacuole, a structure within cells.

'Some of the proteins that regulate the pH balance, and changes in pH balance within the vacuole, can lead to changes in the way that pigments express colour.'

The research is being carried out with Florigene, a leader in genetically manipulated flowers, which has been trying for many years to produce the world's first blue rose.

Dr Gendall and his team are working on lilac and purple carnations to try and shift their colour towards blue. He says such novelty for consumers would boost worldwide sales, and translate into employment of more research and development staff in Australia.

Contact: Dr Gendall, tel: 03 9479 2231 email:

Child health and partner violence

Research to develop a 'good practice model' to improve maternal and child health care for women experiencing partner violence is being led by Dr Angela Taft from the University's Mother and Child Health Research Centre.

Dr Taft says partner violence is prevalent in early parenthood and imposes a heavy health burden on victims and infants, with a significant cost to society. The aim is to improve early intervention services nationwide, contribute to community nursing scholarship and give children a healthier start to life.

The study involves Vic Health, the Office of Women's Policy, Berry Street Family Services, Women's Health West, Office for Children, the Hobsons Bay, Moreland and Maribyrnong City Councils and the Shire of Melton.

Contact: Dr Taft, tel: 03 8341 8571 email:

Efficient and sensitive water regulations

Dr Bradley Jorgensen from the Centre for Sustainable Regional Communities based on the University's Bendigo campus is examining interactions between social, economic and regulatory aspects of residential household water consumption.

In collaboration with Coliban Water and South Australian Water, the study aims to devise effective water management strategies acceptable to residential customers and design a generalised, replicable model of household water consumption highlighting issues of public trust in current water governance arrangements.

It will also recommend communication and behaviour change interventions that promote efficient water and conservation sensitive to regional differences.

Contact: Dr Jorgensen tel: 03 5444 7523 email:

For full project details, partner organisations and co-researchers please see the Australian Research Council Linkage Project site.




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