Scientists will focus on genes to improve cancer treatments and make better wine at a new $7 million research centre in Adelaide, South Australia.
Interim scientific director Professor David Lynn said the state-of-the-art South Australian Genomics Centre would open in July to advance the state’s increasingly important work studying the genes that make up animals, plants or microbes.
“These fields are now critical tools in biology and medicine,” Prof Lynn said. “By consolidating our expertise and resources we are positioning South Australia as a leader in complex biology with a centre that will serve research teams locally, nationally and internationally.”
Genomics is the study of the genes that make up an animal, plant or microbe, it involves investigating how these genes are “turned on and off” and how they interact with each other and their environment.
Prof Lynn, program director at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) and a Flinders University professor, said the centre was a major new collaborative across all disciplines from environmental, plant and agricultural research to human health.
Projects will range from targeting new cancer treatments to assessing the genetic basis of salt tolerance in grapevines or improving malt quality for the beer industry.
Waite Research Institute director Professor Matt Gilliham said genomics in the agriculture and environment sector was targeting research into “the science behind securing a sustainable future for agriculture in dryland environments”.
“We have numerous projects that are planning to use the services the new centre will provide,” he said.
“(This includes) the genomics of natural yeasts for improved and distinctive wine making; the genetic factors that lead to improved malt quality for the beer industry; the adaptation of wheat to hot and dryland climates; psyllium genomics for improved dietary fibre; and beneficial microbiomes of agricultural soils for improved nitrogen fixation.”
The other key area the centre would advance is bioinformatics. Genomics generates a phenomenal amount of data and bioinformatics is the science of storing, processing and analysing that data and also spans comparative, evolutionary and systems biology analyses.
In relation to medicine, pro vice chancellor health partnerships Professor Andrew Zannettino said it was important to recognise that genetics underlies many diseases affecting the community.
“The SA Centre for Genomics will provide medical researchers with increased access to bioinformaticians, scientists who can unravel complex genetic data, to uncover the mysteries underlying many of the diseases that impact our society,” he said.
“For example, the SAGC will greatly expand South Australia’s cancer genetics capability, and allow doctors to determine the exact cause of an individual’s cancer. This will enable doctors to use drugs that specifically target the cancer, an approach often referred to as ‘precision medicine’, sparing the patient from exposure to toxic chemotherapy resulting in less side effects and a much better outcome for the patient.”
Professor Lynn and Adelaide BioMed City general manager Yvette Van Eenennaam have led the plan to open the centre.
It will be based at SAHMRI’s distinctive North Terrace building while also operating from Australian Genome Research Facility site on the University of Adelaide’s Waite campus, the UniSA Centre for Cancer Biology Cancer Genomics Facility and Flinders University’s Genomics Facility.
“Our genome plays a vital role in our health, our risk of disease and how we respond to treatment. The accumulation of genomic big data will enable greater understanding of all aspects of health and disease,” Van Eenennaam said.
“Tremendous advances have been made in the field of DNA sequencing, but this is really just the beginning.”
Bioplatforms Australia through the Australian Government’s National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy contributed $2 million toward opening the centre.
Its six founding partners – SAHMRI, the University of Adelaide, the University of South Australia, Flinders University, the Australian Wine Research Institute and the Australian Genome Research Facility are collectively investing funding, equipment and staff totalling more than $5.6 million.
Professor Anton Middelberg, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice President of Research, The University of Adelaide said the centre would provide increased open-access service to the research community, maximising access to genomic technology through outreach, education and training.
“The aim is to create new engagement opportunities between researchers and facilitate further integration between genomics user groups and bioinformatics experts,” he said.