Successful ARC funded projects

The Australian Research Council (ARC) has awarded almost $4 million to La Trobe University researchers in its latest round of funding.

Six La Trobe researchers have been successful in their applications for Discovery Projects grants, while another four have received Discovery Early Career Research Awards.

La Trobe Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Keith Nugent said the 10 researchers had received funding for outstanding projects across a range of fields including disease management, alcohol consumption and environmental science.

“La Trobe’s latest ARC funding success highlights the breadth of our research talent and is a testament to the hard work of our people,” Professor Nugent said.

“In an increasingly competitive funding environment, it is pleasing that La Trobe continues to win prestigious and highly sought after grants.

“These projects deserve to be funded as they will add to our collective knowledge of the world around us and have the potential to improve and save so many lives.”


Federal Minister for Education and Training Simon Birmingham announced on the 2nd August 2018, almost $5 million of funding towards the La Trobe-led Australian Research Council (ARC) Industry Transformation Research Hub (ITRH) for Medicinal Agriculture. La Trobe has committed $10 million, with a commitment of $6 million from industry partners. Based at La Trobe, the Hub comprises agricultural and biomedical researchers along with existing and new industry partners including Cann Group Limited and TPI Enterprises and research partners including the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute (ONJCRI) and the University of Melbourne.

Minister Birmingham said the Hub was a major step forward for Australia’s developing medicinal agriculture industry. “This is about injecting knowledge at all parts of the supply chain from producers to manufacturers and exporters to ensure they have the tools to develop and expand their enterprises,” Minister Birmingham said.

La Trobe Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Research), Professor Keith Nugent, said The University is perfectly positioned to lead this important collaborative initiative. ”Our proven research strengths in agri-bio, and our established connection with industry, make us an ideal lead for this major initiative that will help solve a major global challenge facing health practitioners, policy makers and regulators,” Professor Nugent said.

La Trobe administered grants

Discovery Projects

Dr Patrick Humbert (School of Molecular Sciences/La Trobe Institute for Molecular Sciences) - DP190103634 $507,000

How the red blood cell loses its nucleus. This project aims to provide insights into erythroid enucleation, the process by which red blood cells extrude their nucleus so that they can circulate through the microvasculature. Although the enucleated character of mammalian red blood cells has been known for more than 150 years, the mechanism underlying this process is virtually unknown. This project will use a live imaging approach to characterise in vivo the cellular interactions and molecular pathways required for enucleation. The project will provide a molecular and cellular road map of enucleation that may be utilised to enhance the bulk therapeutic in vitro production of red blood cells for veterinary and human purposes.

Dr Marc Kvansakul (School of Molecular Sciences/La Trobe Institute for Molecular Sciences) - DP190103591 $412,000

The structural basis for defensin-mediated membrane attack. This project aims to define how the innate defense proteins called defensins attack target membranes to cause cells to burst and die. It is often said that attack is the best form of defense, and the immune systems of plants and animals will often target the cell membranes of microbes and other pathogens to defend themselves. This project will identify the precise molecular mechanism underlying defensin activity, and clarify how ligand recognition and subsequent multimerisation leads to target membrane lysis. The project will establish the fundamental mechanisms regulating antimicrobial defense systems based on small proteins, and define a conceptual framework for the action of defensins to develop strategies to combat fungal infections.

Dr Jennifer Power (School of Psychology and Public Health/Australian Centre in Sex, Health and Society) - DP190102027 $318,000

The technological transformation of sex: improving Australia's response. This project aims to enhance knowledge and explore important implications of new digital, mechanical or medical technologies that are transforming the sexual lives of many Australians. Privacy breaches and online harassment are among the challenges posed by these new technologies. The project intends to identify potential solutions to emerging problems as well as areas of policy, legal or educational systems that might facilitate or mitigate their implementation. Expected outcomes include new evidence regarding the use of technologies in the sexual lives of Australians. This project can directly benefit people requiring an evidence base for policy development, law and regulation (including consumer protection), cyber-security and sex-education.

Dr Maria Kaparakis-Liaskos (School of Life Sciences) - DP190101655 $375,000

Biogenesis and functions of bacterial membrane vesicles.. This project aims to investigate the mechanisms that regulate the production of bacterial membrane vesicles and how this determines their bacterial cargo and subsequent biological functions. Bacterial membrane vesicles are naturally produced nanoparticles released by all bacteria as part of their normal growth. These vesicles contain a range of bacterial cargo and function to promote bacterial survival and growth. This project will advance our knowledge regarding the regulation of bacterial membrane vesicle biogenesis, their composition and biological functions. Collectively, these findings will facilitate the development and refinement of membrane vesicle-based biotechnologies with broad applications.

Dr Keir Strickland (School of Humanities and Social Sciences) - DP190100485 $328,700

An archaeological investigation into the collapse of Polonnaruva, Sri Lanka. This project aims to develop an improved understanding of the collapse of the kingdom of Polonnaruva, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in Sri Lanka. The medieval collapse of Polonnaruva marked the end of the lowland kingdoms in Sri Lanka's arid north, and the end of a distinctive and successful form of hydraulic low-density urban settlement. Recent research at Anuradhapura suggests the very economic system that enabled these kingdoms to flourish within a marginal environment, may have facilitated their collapse. This project will characterise, contextualise and explain the development and failure of the low-density urban state of Polonnaruva. The project expects to inform environmental security and improve management and risk reduction in decision making in relation to ancient and contemporary socio-environmental systems.

Dr Erinna Lee (School of Molecular Sciences/La Trobe Institute for Molecular Sciences) - DP190102612 $400,000

Mechanisms by which Beclin1 regulates intestinal homeostasis. This project aims to investigate if Beclin1, a protein which has an important and well-accepted role in promoting cell survival through the program of autophagy, has an alternate job mediating trafficking within a cell. Using novel mouse models and innovative techniques, the project aims to demonstrate the physiological importance of this alternate role for Beclin1. Expected outcomes include enhancing Australia's international research standing, and providing research training for young scientists. Benefits include generation of new knowledge and a rethink of the basis for normal development and diseases where Beclin1 has been implicated.

Discovery Early Career Research Awards

Dr Anne-Marie Laslett (School of Psychology and Public Health/Centre for Alcohol Policy Research) - DE190100329 $361,357

Adult drinking and child maltreatment in families, communities and societies. This project aims to measure how adult drinking is linked to child maltreatment within families, communities and societies. The project will use data from 20 countries, including Australia, and expects to develop new knowledge about links between adult drinking, fathering, community-level alcohol availability, societal drinking patterns and harms to children. Expected outcomes include national and cross-national policy-relevant data and analysis that will inform prevention of alcohol-related child maltreatment and alcohol policy globally. This project should support reductions in the economic and human costs of alcohol-related child abuse and neglect for children, families and societies.

Dr Katherine Harrison (School of Life Sciences) - DE190100636 $401,202

Integrating genomics into native fish management to promote persistence. This project aims to improve predictions of the effects of environmental change on the long-term survival of wildlife, using native fish as a case study. By integrating genomics into biodiversity models, this project expects to generate fundamental knowledge of processes underpinning long-term survival and is a big advance on traditional biodiversity models that consider only occurrence or abundance. Expected outcomes include insights into fish responses to environmental conditions and new tools to predict long-term survival of wildlife. These tools will guide cost-effective delivery of environmental water in the Murray-Darling Basin, and wider uptake should promote the long-term effectiveness of conservation efforts for many species.

Dr Tatiana Soares da Costa (School of Molecular Sciences/La Trobe Institute of Molecular Science) - DE190100806 $419,854

Towards herbicide cocktails with a new mode of action to avert resistance. This project aims to target herbicide resistant weeds which represent one of the largest threats to Australian and global food security. Targeting of unexplored pathways in plants to develop a novel herbicide strategy is expected to be achieved, and will include the structural and functional characterisation of key enzymes in these pathways. This project is expected to provide significant benefits for effective weed management to sustain Australia’s agricultural industry through enhanced food production from increased crop yields, whilst ensuring food security. These outcomes, coupled with decades of over-reliance on current herbicides, means there has never been a greater need for new and effective herbicides.

Dr Amy Pennay – (School of Psychology and Public Health/Centre for Alcohol Policy Research) - DE190101074 $367,275

Social change and youth drinking: a cross-cultural and temporal examination. This project aims to examine the significant decrease in alcohol consumption that has occurred among youth in high income countries over the last 15 years. The analysis will focus on Australia, Sweden and the UK through a novel cross-cultural and qualitative longitudinal design. This project expects to inform prevention and policy efforts to sustain or progress these trends, and illuminate the social processes and cultural meanings that are manifesting in a distinct historical era for alcohol research.

Future Fellowships

Dr Megan Maher, 'The structural biology of trace metal trafficking across membranes' (FT180100397) $878,125.00

The structural biology of trace metal trafficking across membranes. This project aims to investigate how essential trace element nutrients are recognised and specifically acquired and expelled by bacterial cells. Cells are surrounded by biomembranes that separate and protect them from their environments. Embedded within these membranes are proteins that perform essential functions. In bacteria, membrane proteins are responsible for the uptake and elimination of trace elements that are required for survival. This project will investigate the features of integral membrane proteins that allow discrimination between cargo, by defining their three dimensional architectures using X-ray crystallography. This will contribute to the field of membrane protein structural biology and fundamental discoveries in the area of cellular trace element homeostasis and toxicity.

Dr Suresh Mathivanan, 'Understanding the biogenesis of exosomes' (FT180100333) $878,125.00

Understanding the biogenesis of exosomes. This project aims to understand how exosomes are made in human cells. Exosomes are small packages that are released by cells, which mediate communication between cells. Currently, very little is known about how exosomes are made within a cell. This project expects to identify key proteins that are involved in the production of exosomes and to understand exosomes synthesis, thereby expanding our knowledge on how cells regulate communication signals. Dissecting how exosomes are produced at the fundamental level will provide significant benefits such as a deeper understanding of how cells maintain normal cellular functions.

Industrial Transformation Research Hubs

Professor Tony Bacic,ARC Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture (IH180100006) $4,995,391.00

Professor Tony Bacic (Hub Director)

Other La Trobe CI's: Professor James Whelan, Dr Monika Doblin, Profesor Marilyn Anderson, Dr Matthew Lewsey, Dr Travis Beddoe, Dr Anthony Gendall, Dr Kim Johnson, Professor Ian Woodrow, Dr James Hunt, Professor Robin Anderson, Dr Kim Plummer, Professor John Moses, Dr Reena Narsai, Dr Nicole van der Weerden and Dr Aniruddha Desai,

ARC Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture . The ARC Research Hub for Medicinal Agriculture aims to transform the production of high quality plant-derived therapeutics into an integrated, national industry that spans primary producers and manufacturers. The Hub will establish a multi-disciplinary collaboration with industry. This Hub will address agronomy and cultivation, germplasm generation, novel extraction technologies and chemistries, through to the discovery and functional characterisation of novel lead compounds. This knowledge will be applicable across related industries and build the specialised workforce needed to underpin Australia’s developing medicinal agriculture industry.

Externally administered grants

Jennifer Martin; Begoña Heras; Makrina Totsika; Roisin McMahon; David Drew; Karrera Djoko (DP190101613) $550,000

La Trobe CI: Begoña Heras

Molecular mechanisms of novel bacterial copper defense proteins. This project aims to reveal molecular and cellular mechanisms used by bacteria to neutralise the destructive effects of copper. Copper is an essential trace element in living systems. It is toxic to bacteria and so plays a vital role in nutritional immunity. To counteract copper toxicity, bacteria have evolved defense mechanisms. The project will investigate a novel but poorly understood class of bacterial proteins, the suppressor of copper sensitivity proteins, that contribute to this key virulence trait. The expected outcomes will be fundamental new knowledge of metallo-protein diversity, bacterial virulence mechanisms, and membrane protein function with potential impact on health, environment, and biotechnology.

Marcus Pandy; Kay Crossley; Scott Tashman (DP190102365) $421,140

La Trobe CI: Kay Crossley

Final frontier in computational modelling of movement. This project aims to create the computational models and methods needed to advance current understanding of musculoskeletal function during movement. Humans must maintain their capacity to move in order to maintain quality-of-life. Predictive modelling is potentially the most powerful approach for understanding musculoskeletal function during movement. Current computational methods are too slow and unreliable to deliver predictive simulations of movement using realistic models of muscle and joint anatomy. This project expects to create the next generation of methods and algorithms needed to enable predictive modelling of movement. Predictive simulations will provide new insights into how muscles stabilise and control movements of the spine, pelvis and lower limbs during daily activities such as walking.

Andrew Martin; Connie Darmanin; Tamar Greaves; Timothy Petersen; Peter Berntsen; Carl Caleman (DP190103027) $350,000

La Trobe CI: Connie Darmanin

Probing nanoscale disorder in 3D with x-ray free-electron lasers. This project aims to reveal the 3D nanostructure of disordered matter with x-rays for the first time. Existing x-ray scattering techniques for disordered structures currently provide limited, one-dimensional information only. The expected outcomes of the project include an enhanced new capability for the Australian Synchrotron and international x-ray laser facilities, and new insights into the microscopic origins of the properties of liquids and biological membranes. This should benefit research areas that use x-ray scattering to probe the nanostructure of materials for diverse applications such as nanotechnology, fuel cells and drug design.

John Powers; Gillian Tan; James Pittock; Petra Maurer; Sara Beavis; Ruth Gamble; Per Sörensen; Yangmotso Yangmotso (DP190101253) $418,268

La Trobe CI: Ruth Gamble

Tibet's rivers in the Anthropocene: history and present trajectories. This project aims to produce a multifaceted history of the eastern Tibetan Plateau's rivers, focusing on the increasing human impacts during the Anthropocene. It will combine data from archival, cultural and oral sources in multiple languages with the results of scientific studies of river flow, water quality, and sediment, ice, and tree-rings analysis. The project will produce both historical narratives and graphic representations that model past land and water usage. The results of the project will underpin environmental policy for this hydrologically and ecologically crucial region, including the development of a paradigm of care based on the region's indigenous cultural resources.

Qiaoliang Bao; Igor Aharonovich; Kourosh Kalantar-zadeh; Wenlong Cheng; Yuerui Lu; Jacek Jasieniak; Nicolas Voelcker; Min Gu; Luhua Li; Mark Banaszak Holl; Tao Wu; Matthew Phillips; Brian Abbey; Ann Roberts; Dan Li ( LE190100116) $809,000

La Trobe CI: Brian Abbey

Multi-functional 3D imaging system for micro and nanoscale devices. This project aims to establish the most advanced all-in-one multi-functional 3D imaging system in the world. The facility is expected to combine broadband pulse lasers, optical and electronic measurement modules and electrochemical workstations with confocal Raman microscopy to realise 3D imaging and mapping of micro and nanoscale devices.  The facility will offer optical tools for in-situ studying of how these micro and nanoscale devices are affected by interactions with external stimuli such as light, heat and stress. The facility will build capacity in Australia for research into advanced functional devices, and develop the workforce for device industries of the future.

Andrew Mowbray; Philip Chung; Rosemary Rayfuse; Rosemary Lyster; Nicole Gurran; Lee Godden; Jacqueline Peel; Benjamin Richardson; Jan McDonald; Alexander Gardner; Paul Martin; Donald Anton; Justine Bell-James; Julia Dehm; Brendan Grigg (LE14901000061) $515,000

La Trobe CI: Julia Dehm

The Australian environmental and planning law library. This project aims to provide comprehensive and free access to relevant Australian Environmental and Planning legal research resources, in all Australian jurisdictions not currently available online. A subject-specific ‘Australian Environmental and Planning Law Library’ will improve the ability of all researchers in the field to conduct the highest quality research.  The project will build a comprehensive resource of materials including case law, legislation, Impact Statements, Planning Approvals, Plans and similar resources. Expected outcomes include support of the highest quality research relating to the array of issues arising from the protection of natural resources, the prevention of pollution, and the planning of urban development and infrastructure. This database will support the development of improved public policy and better outcomes for the natural and built environments.