Science and Engineering

Biological sciences

Overview

Research

Our discipline is a broad-based, multidisciplinary group that covers all major aspects of non-human biology:

  • biotechnology
  • ecology
  • microbiology
  • animal and plant physiology
  • evolutionary biology
  • genetics and genomics.

Biological research at QUT has been greatly strengthened in recent years by new staff and major investments in next-generation sequencing and genomic analysis facilities, such as our Central Analytical Research Facility.

Rankings

Our research has made significant contributions to QUT's Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA) ratings.

We received a 5 (well above world standard) in agricultural biotechnology, and 4 (above world standard) in environmental science and evolutionary biology.

ERA (Excellence in Research for Australia) evaluates the quality of research undertaken in Australian universities against national and international benchmarks.

Research expertise

We have significant research capabilities in three major areas:

  • crop protection and biosecurity, which investigates protecting Australian crops from pests using alternatives to chemical sprays, monitoring for invasive diseases, and understanding pest biology to better control pests already established in Australia.
  • evolutionary biology, which researches the origins of Australia's unique animals and plants and the application of genomic methods to non-model organisms.
  • applied ecology, which aims to protect Australia's ecosystems from human pressures and includes understanding endangered species and developing new methods in acoustic monitoring of environmental diversity.

Featured research

Our researchers collaborate on projects in specialised research groups and facilities across disciplines and institutions:

Projects

The Category 1 funded research projects we are currently leading are:

The evolution of generalism: why so many polyphagous fruit flies

Project leader
Professor Anthony Clarke
Dates
2018-2020
Project summary

This project aims to understand why flies that cause maggoty fruit have so frequently evolved the generalist feeding habitat, and to test specific hypotheses to explain the high frequency of generalism in Bactrocera.

Outcomes will significantly advance understanding of the evolution of generalism, and so greatly advance herbivory theory. As Bactrocera are also globally significant horticultural pests, the project will provide under-pinning science for pest management.

Geomolecular dating with biologically relaxed clocks, and mammal evolution

Project leader
Dr Matthew Phillips
Dates
2015-2017
Project summary

This project aims to use DNA, fossils and biological cues to synergistically model evolutionary rate changes. Molecular dates allow direct comparison of evolutionary and ecological patterns and processes across the tree of life. However, current models struggle to identify the location and magnitude of molecular clock rate changes on phylogenies, often resulting in wildly inaccurate dates.

Expected outcomes include improved dating accuracy, and a novel statistical framework for morphological data, which allows fossils to be more accurately merged into the tree of life. In turn, the project aims to resolve intense debate on the origins of marsupial and placental mammals, and to trace the responses of these two groups to past environmental changes.

Generic delimitations in Rottboelliinae (Andropogoneae, Panicoideae, Poaceae) based on molecular and morphological data

Project leader
Dr Tanya Scharaschkin
Dates
2014-2017
Project summary

This project will provide a reliable framework for classifying a group of widespread but understudied grasses, including some rare and threaten species. The number of genera and species in the subtribe Rottboelliinae is uncertain. Analysis of DNA sequences from multiple regions will inform the taxonomic revision of ~11 genera and 98 species. Diagnostically important characters will be identified for the creation of reliable identification keys.

This research will train a new agrostologist and enhance our understanding of the biodiversity of mesic to savannah grasslands. It will provide clarity to decision-making processes regarding conservation and management of rare and threaten species.

Understanding equine incretins: a novel approach to laminitis prevention

Project leader
Dr Melody de Laat
Dates
2014-2016
Project summary

Laminitis is a crippling foot disease in horses which incurs significant economic and social costs. Recent studies have shown that persistently high insulin concentrations can trigger laminitis, and that high insulin levels are caused by the excessive release of hormones called incretins.

This project aims to determine the role of incretins and their receptors in causing abnormal equine insulin secretion. The distribution of equine incretin receptors will be described for the first time, and the consequences of incretin receptor binding will be characterised. Understanding equine incretin biology may lead to novel therapies for laminitis.

Interdisciplinary and inter-institution projects

Gastrointestinal hormones: linking insulin dysregulation and laminitis

Project leaders
Dr Melody de Laat,Professor Martin Sillence,Emeritus Professor Adrian Herington.
Dates
2018-2020
Project summary

This project aims to identify the earliest pathogenic factors of disease by investigating two key hormones, ghrelin and GLP-2, and whether a specific genetic mutation underlies insulin dysregulation.

Using innovative approaches the project will enable the identification of at-risk animals and pinpoint novel treatment strategies. In the long term improved disease treatment and prevention will reduce the suffering associated with painful and often lethal co-morbidities.

Student topics

Are you looking to further your career by pursuing study at a higher and more detailed level? We are currently looking for students to research a number of topics within a range of broad themes.

There are topics relevant to students who would like to pursue:

  • PhD study
  • masters by research
  • a research project (part of masters by coursework or undergraduate project unit).

Genetics and genomics

We offer research opportunities to investigate aspects of genome structure and regulation, proteomics, next-generation diagnostics and viral genetics.

Find a supervisor in this research theme:

Ecology

We offer research opportunities to investigate aspects of biosecurity, thermal imaging, animal behaviour and competition, acoustic ecology and weed invasive biology.

Find a supervisor in this research theme:

Evolutionary biology

We offer research opportunities to investigate aspects of phylogenetics, phylogenomics, biogeography, diversification, evolutionary ecology, bioinformatics and morphological evolution.

Find a supervisor in this research theme:

Physiology

We offer research opportunities to investigate aspects of insulin regulation and metabolic syndromes.

Find a supervisor in this research theme:

Contact

School of Earth, Environmental and Biological Sciences

  • Level 3, R Block, Room 302
    Gardens Point