Multimillion-dollar centre opens to investigate the molecules of life

One of the Chief Investigators is Associate Elizabeth New (right).

One of the Chief Investigators is Associate Elizabeth New (right).

The new ARC centre will discover, decode and develop molecules for health, industry and agriculture. The largest research node will be at the University of Sydney, led by Professor Kate Jolliffe.

A new ARC Centre of Excellence has been announced today that will help scientists to unleash the power of peptide and protein molecules for human benefit.

The $35 million research centre will harness molecules from Australian plants and animals to assist the improvement of food and develop new medicines and eco-friendly pesticides.

Peptides, which are short chains of amino acids, and their longer cousins, proteins, are the work horses of life, making up the fundamental machinery that run most biological processes.

Unlocking their secrets and accessing the power of these natural molecules is still an untapped resource for human wellbeing and sustainable life.

The Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Innovations in Peptide & Protein Science ( CIPPS ) will discover, decode and develop peptides and proteins.

This could include developing ecofriendly pesticides from the venom of funnel-web spiders or using other peptides in the same venom to slow the death of brain cells , a function that could have application in treating stroke patients.

The centre will be led by Professor David Craik at the University of Queensland.

Professor Richard Payne  from the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney is Deputy Director of the centre. He said: "The University has built an international reputation for excellence in peptide and protein science. I am delighted that we will be able to work as a dynamic cluster of researchers, together with our colleagues elsewhere in Australia, to develop new peptide and protein molecules to benefit society."

The largest CIPPS research node will be at the University of Sydney and will be led by  Professor Kate Jolliffe  from the University of Sydney Nano Institute and School of Chemistry.

"CIPPS provides a really exciting opportunity to build this already strong area of Australian research through new collaborations," Professor Jolliffe said.

"The increased visibility that the centre provides will help us to attract the best early-career researchers in the area and build a strong network that will last far beyond the centre’s lifetime."

Associate Professor Elizabeth New , also from Sydney Nano and the School of Chemistry, is another Chief Investigator in the new centre.

This month she was  awarded a Prime Minister’s Prize for Science , recognising her as Australia’s physical scientist of the year.

"I’m particularly keen to work on developing tools that allow researchers from around the world to understand how newly discovered bioactive peptides work," she said.

Bioactive peptides have been discovered by University of Sydney researchers  in the milk of Tasmanian devils  and these could be used to develop new antibiotics that are useful in combatting emerging ’superbugs’.

Tasmanian devil researcher and world-renowned geneticist,  Professor Kathy Belov , is the fourth CIPPS Chief Investigator from the University of Sydney.

CIPPS will have centres at the University of Sydney, University of Queensland, Queensland University of Technology, Australian National University, Monash University, Edith Cowan University and the CSIRO.

Professor Craik said: "Peptides and proteins contain huge amounts of complex information that is compressed into the cells of living organisms.

"Unpacking this information, understanding its meaning and harnessing it for human benefit is one of the grand challenges of the 21st century."

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Sydney, Professor Duncan Ivision, said: "This centre and our node at Sydney will give us the opportunity to educate the public about the unique lessons we can learn about peptides and proteins from Australian flora and fauna, and about the world-leading research that is coming out of Australia."

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