Professor achieves global recognition

La Trobe University geneticist, Prime Minister’s Prize for Science winner 2017 and Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, Professor Jenny Graves AO, has been elected to the coveted National  Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the USA.

Only a small number of Australian scientists have previously been elected as foreign associates to the NAS – considered one of the highest honours a scientist can receive. Professor Graves is the only Australian to be elected into the NAS this year.

Professor Graves has been elected by peers as a NAS foreign associate in recognition of her distinguished and continuing research achievements. 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 Y chromosome that determines maleness.

Professor Graves said she was honoured to receive such prestigious, international acknowledgement of her contribution to science.

“I’m delighted to have been elected into the National Academy of Sciences and to join a group of such world-leading scientists,” Professor Graves said.

“NAS Fellows include many distinguished scientists I’ve worked with for a long time on comparing animal genomes.”

“I’m particularly excited that major discoveries around how human sex genes work – based on the unique and remarkable fauna of Australia – have been recognised by one of the world’s most prominent and influential scientific bodies.”

La Trobe Vice-Chancellor, Professor John Dewar, congratulated Professor Graves on her achievement.

“Election into the National Academy of Sciences is well-deserved for a La Trobe scientist who has made an extraordinary and lasting contribution to human knowledge,” Professor Dewar said.

“Not only has Professor Graves helped shape the course of our understanding of human genetics, she has been – and continues to be – an exceptional role model for current and future scientists, particularly young women.”

About Professor Jenny Graves

Professor Graves was the first La Trobe academic to win Australia’s most coveted prize for science in 2017, the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science. She is also the first woman to be individually recognised by this prize.

Her 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.

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 and disappearance 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.

Professor Graves has longstanding commitments to women in science, and science education. She won the 2006 international L’Oreal UNESCO prize for women in science, and served as both foreign secretary, and secretary for education in the Australian Academy of Science.

As a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow, Professor Graves works with La Trobe scientists to integrate genomics into traditional fields of animal biology, ecology and conservation. She acts as a role model and figurehead for La Trobe’s initiatives (including Athena SWAN – SAGE) to attract more women into STEM disciplines and into senior roles in those disciplines. She also more broadly helps promote women in science.

About the National Academy of Sciences

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) is a private, non-profit institution that was established under a congressional charter signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. It recognizes achievement in science by election to membership, and—with the National Academy of Engineering and the National Academy of Medicine—provides science, engineering, and health policy advice to the federal government and other organisations.

Scientists are elected by their peers to membership in the NAS for outstanding contributions to research. A maximum of 100 members are elected annually, who must be US citizens. Non-citizens are elected as foreign associates, with a maximum of 25 elected annually.

Those elected today bring the total number of active members to 2,347 and the total number of foreign associates to 487. Foreign associates are non-voting members of the Academy, with citizenship outside the United States.

The NAS media release is here.

Media Contact: Claire Bowers – - 9479 2315 / 0437279903