Research to uncover how cells communicate

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Research to uncover how cells communicate


10 December 2012

10 December 2012

An investigation into the cell communication of sea sponges, which could lead to a greater understanding of how cells work in humans and other animals, is being conducted by the University of the Sunshine Coast.

Lecturer in Molecular and Cellular Biology Dr Scott Cummins, in partnership with Professor Bernie Degnan of the University of Queensland, has won a $454,000 Discovery Grant from the Australian Research Council to conduct a study into the chemical signalling of sea sponges.

This is the fourth ARC grant awarded to the USC academic in two years, following on from an impressive ARC Future Fellowship in 2011.

Dr Cummins said the research would examine the evolutionary origin of peptide communication in the Amphimedon queenslandica which is a sponge native to the Great Barrier Reef.

“Sea sponges are the first multi-cellular organism so they are kind of what animals evolved from,” he said. “So we are looking at a very simplified system.”

“But if we can understand that system in a sea sponge, then we can get a better understanding of how peptide communication works in higher organisms, like humans.”

Dr Cummins said the research could reveal how abnormal cell communication causes diseases, which would have implications for the medical field.

“It is very likely that we will discover some novel peptides which may be involved in immune function or antimicrobial or antifungal roles, so we will be doing tests to see if they have these sorts of functions,” he said.

“Sea sponges are sessile organisms that are constantly exposed to harsh conditions but have developed their own system of removing disease. If we can identify what they are using, potentially we could use it against certain diseases in humans.”

Dr Cummins said the project would include field work on Heron Island in Central Queensland and laboratory work at both UQ and USC.

Michelle Widdicombe

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