Molecular diagnostic tools in livestock disease testing

5 August 2023

Dr Rajib Deb, senior scientist at the ICAR-National Research Centre on Pig (Indian Council of Agricultural Research) in India, delivered a talk on "molecular diagnostic tools in livestock diseases testing to 14 viewers.

Dr Deb described the current scenario of the Indian livestock sector and the concerning aspects connected with diminishing livestock productivity in India. He spoke about the importance of diagnostic tests in the early detection of diseases in livestock, and discussed the fundamentals of designing a diagnostic tool and how to improve diagnostic approaches.

Following that, he discussed the classification of various molecular diagnostic technologies used for livestock disease diagnosis, with a focus on "Point-of-care diagnostic tools" for on-field testing of livestock diseases.

In addition, he demonstrated several diagnostic techniques developed by his research team for the early and specific diagnosis of animal diseases. Finally, he discussed the strength, weakness, opportunity, and threat analysis (SWOT) for molecular diagnostic techniques for livestock disease diagnostics. Questions were asked about the role of diagnostics for smallholders in India and the importance of street cattle as reservoirs for disease.

Dr Stefanie Bonat MRSB

The Hyrax Revisited

4 March 2023

At the first event of 2023, Australasia branch members heard from Dr Rob Eley CBiol CSci FRSB about his experiences of working on hyrax research.

Hyraxes are interesting little animals that are found all over the African continent, and in the Middle East. They have one of the longest gestation periods related to their body size among mammals. In fact, despite being a small, rabbit-sized animal, their gestation is 7-8 months long.

Although one of the most commonly cited facts about hyraxes is that they are phylogenetically related to elephants, this is not the most accurate or interesting fact about them.

Interestingly, hyraxes are the only terrestrial mammal to have their whole body covered by vibrissae. These are hairs that allow them to sense where they are moving when finding shelter in burrows. Many other animals have vibrissae, although these are generally concentrated in one area, such as the head.

Hyraxes have sharp and continuously growing incisors, which are not used for feeding, but most likely, for defence as a visual deterrent. They feed using their premolars and molars, which allows them to consume a large amount of material in a short period of time.

There are five extant species of hyrax, divided into three genera, called Dendrohyrax (tree hyraxes), Heterohyrax (Yellow-spotted rock or bush hyrax), and Procavia (rock hyrax).

Although these species are faced with some conservation challenges through habitat loss, they can do really well in altered environments, with their numbers increasing around some urban areas.

Stefanie Bonat MRSB

Tour of the Mawson Collection, South Australian Museum

13 August 2022

The first in-person event by RSB Australasia took place on a rainy Saturday morning in August at the South Australian Museum in Adelaide, South Australia. Organised by Affiliate Associate Professor Anne Hamilton-Bruce FRSB, the long-awaited event was fully booked with a group of 22 keen RSB members, their guests and members of the public. The tour at the Mawson Polar collection was hosted by Mr Mark Pharaoh and Dr Peter Shaughnessy.

Mark has been the senior collection manager at the Mawson Centre since it opened in 2003, and has overseen the expansion of the Mawson Collection to include the John Rymill and G.H. Wilkins collections. His research includes a personal interest in Mawson’s life and he has curated several exhibitions, a Mawson centenary symposium, and published on polar history.

Peter, an honorary research associate at the South Australian Museum, has researched subantarctic seals and seabirds for over 50 years. Both Mark and Peter have worked as tour guides on Antarctic voyages and they have also jointly published papers, most recently on Mawson’s conservation values.

After Mark provided the historical and environmental background to Antarctica, Peter led the first part of the tour to ‘Seals and Seabirds on display in the Polar Gallery’. Guests learnt about the leopard seal, wandering albatross, southern giant petrel and Adelie penguin.

Mark led the second part of the tour, ‘Invasive Terrestrial Mammals in the Polar Gallery’ and launched into further details about the polar explorers, including reference to Mawson’s famous husky dogs.

The group then moved to the SA Museum Eatery for morning tea/coffee and refreshments, where we received great feedback, with some attendees staying on for lunch. We are looking forward to organising more in-person events like this in the future.

Anne Hamilton-Bruce FRSB

Developing CRISPR-based tools for genome editing & diagnostics

28 May 2022

Dr Martin Pal joined members on Zoom to explain what CRISPR-based gene editing is, how it is used, and some of the potential ethical problems in using this technique. This talk is available to watch on the RSB YouTube channel.

We learned that the function of the CRISPR-Associated-Protein 9 (Cas9) protein, now widely used in gene-editing, was first discovered around 2012, earning Professor Jennifer Doudna and Professor Emmanuelle Charpentier a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2020.

Cas9 is a gene-editing “scissor” that allows DNA strands to be cut with extreme accuracy, contrasting with previous proteins used, like ZNF or TALEN. Because of its accuracy and ease of programming, it has been widely adopted in many fields of genetics research, such as gene therapy, diagnostics, drug development and food production.

In medicine, gene editing has been used to the identify the way diseases operate, and where diseases originate. This can be done by either knocking out specific genes or over-expressing them and seeing the effects. When the disease genes are not known, scientists go through the process of whole-genome screening to discover novel disease-driving genes. Knowing which genes are implicated in disease could allow for targeted treatments, enabling the path to precision medicine.

In recent times, CRISPR technology has been adopted for diagnostics. Here, a different kind of CRISPR scissor, the Cas12 and Cas13 proteins are used as detectors and scissors to locate the presence of nucleic acids from pathogens, such as viruses or bacteria. This technique harnesses the collateral activity of the Cas12 and Cas13 CRISPR proteins that activate a detectable marker when pathogenic DNA or RNA is found in a sample. CRISPR diagnostics has the potential to be employed as rapid and reliable point-of-care testing tool.

As with other ground-breaking technologies, genome editing with CRISPR presents many ethical challenges, such as editing human embryos to have specific traits. A question about this was asked after the end of the presentation, and we learned that most scientists do not apply gene editing techniques to embryos because of ethical and safety concerns, but the lack of international regulations concerns many.

Ms Stefanie Bonat MRSB & Dr Martin Pal MRSB

Nature as Health Partner

26 March 2022

Our first South Australian speaker, Alex Gaut, gave a heartfelt talk about Nature as a Health partner, based on her masters research at the University of South Australia.

Alex has a background in marine science and education and a research focus on environmental psychology. Her presentation started with the notion that the human/rest of nature relationship is broken, demonstrated by ongoing environmental degradation around the planet, and went on to explain what we can do to heal this relationship.

Most of us are separated or disconnected from nature, per Louv’s ‘nature-deficit disorder’. Importantly, green space facilitates social interaction, social capital and connection and is especially important for vulnerable populations. An imperative to healing this broken relationship is the need to spend time both in and with nature by developing a respectful, reciprocal relationship and enacting many more pro-environmental behaviours.

Attendees learned about different ways of doing this, e.g., nature or green prescriptions, having an in-nature ‘dose’. People can reconnect with the rest of nature by showing reciprocity - not just taking but also giving back to and supporting nature, to thrive together. Other examples include learning from First Nations people, nature volunteering and gardening, also sensory immersion, slowing down, being present in the moment and enjoying nature’s beauty.

Related to this, Alex also leads occasional free nature-connection sessions in Belair National Park near Adelaide, with one of the participants commenting: “I can’t believe I got to this stage of my life without ever having just sat in a forest. What have I been doing all my life?”

Alex’s presentation stimulated lively discussion and during Q&A, RSB Australasia member Professor Wei Wang summarised his research on sub-optimal health and offered to share his results with interested members. RSB Australasia will also investigate running a forest-bathing event in the near future.

Photograph and credits can be found online and the talk can be rewatched on the RSB YouTube channel.

Associate Professor M Anne Hamilton-Bruce FRSB, Ms Alex Gaut, Dr Rob Eley FRSB, Ms Stefanie Bonat MRSB

Tackling obesity one cell at a time

29 January 2022

RSB Australasia kickstarted 2022 with an online talk by Dr Ross Graham CBiol MRSB, from the Curtin Medical School and Curtin Health Innovation Research Institute, detailing the research carried out at Curtin University in collaboration with the Australian Synchrotron facility. The talk was attended by members of the Australasia branch and was recorded for the RSB’s Youtube channel.

Liver disease among obese patients is of high concern, as it has increased drastically over the last 60 years, with changes in diet and lifestyle that have affected our society as a whole. Dr Graham’s research lab focuses on understanding the mechanisms behind non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and they are doing this by investigating the role of iron in the metabolic processes occurring within the liver.

Often patients that have NAFLD have elevated iron levels, and this is associated with progression of the disease. Linking this chemistry with physiological responses within liver cells may help with developing new treatments for NAFLD and related diseases like diabetes, with the aim of targeting these pathways specifically, especially in cases where other treatment options may have failed.

Dr Graham’s lab successfully demonstrated how increases in iron cause increased liver cholesterol. X-ray fluorescence microscopy showed that iron accumulated in individual hepatocytes, while live cell infrared imaging was used to observe how fat content changed with iron loading. This imaging showed that iron-loaded cells accumulated approximately 3x more storage fat (triglycerides) than control cells over time, with longer chain lengths and more double bonds.

Australasia event pic

This research has led to important insights into the cell biology of liver disease, although there are still unanswered questions, such as: what is the evolutionary reason behind iron leading to fat accumulation? How do we best diagnose obesity and prevent it before its damage becomes irreversible?

Stefanie Bonat MRSB

Deep-sea sampling in the Tasmanian Seamounts & AGM

19 September 2020

The Australasian branch of the RSB held its virtual AGM on 19th September. Members from five different time zone across New Zealand and Western Australia attended the event.

The AGM was preceded with a presentation by Dr Laetitia Gunton MRSB from the Australia Museum on Deep-sea sampling in the Tasmanian Seamounts.

Professor Lloyd Reeve-Johnson FSRB, branch Chair, welcomed those in attendance and then provided an overview of the creation of the branch. While recognising the difficulties of engaging members across such a vast region, he identified the opportunities offered by the web page, social media and online communication.

Professor Reeve-Johnson and Dr Rob Eley FRSB retained their committee positions of Chair and Secretary, respectively. Re-elected as committee members were Dr Eliot Attridge FRSB, Stef Bonat MRSB, Professor Iain Gordon FRSB, Dr Laetitia Gunton MRSB (Treasurer), Dr Anne Hamilton-Bruce MRSB, Dr Martin Pal MRSB and Adhityo Wicaksono MRSB. Carolyn Reynolds MRSB was voted onto the committee.

The meeting finished with a short address by Professor Nigel Brown, Chair of the RSB’s College of Individual Members. He extended a welcome to his office for member discussion, and encouraged branch members to share their experiences with the wider RSB membership.

Dr Rob Eley CBiol CSci FRSB

Opening meeting

17 August 2017

The inaugural meeting of the Australasian branch of the RSB was held by telecon on 17th August and included participants from across the Australian continent and New Zealand. The purpose of the meeting was to encourage participation in the newly formed branch and for forward planning. We remind all biologists in the Australasian/ Oceania region they are most welcome to join our branch and that includes those in South Africa, Indonesia, Malaysia and all Pacific countries as well as New Zealand and Australia.

We would welcome members to also participate in the various committees that we are establishing and encourage all to visit the Australasia branch section of the RSB website and send us contributions for these pages.

Professor Lloyd Reeve-Johnson FRSB


Founding of branch

March 2017

The Australasian branch of the Royal Society of Biology was formally incorporated in January 2017. Over the next months our objective is to migrate our membership from several preceding organisations including the Australian Institute of Biology to one platform and increase linkage via our branch web page. We hope our members will also avail themselves of the Certified Biologist (CBiol) and Certified Scientist (CSci) training opportunities and help attract further members in our region. 

We encourage contributions to our web page including short articles, photographic material, notices of events and positions that may be of interest to other members.

We are very keen to have expressions of interest for committee membership, project and meeting hosting/ organisation. Please contact us on

Professor Lloyd Reeve-Johnson FRSB