Major advances in our understanding of human evolution have seen Walter and Eliza Hall Institute researcher Dr Alicia Oshlack awarded the 2011 Gani Medal for Human Genetics by the Australian Academy of Science.
The Gani Medal recognises distinguished research in human genetics by early career researchers and honours the contribution to genetics of the late Ruth Stephens Gani.
Dr Oshlack, a senior research officer in the institute's Bioinformatics division, has made new strides in understanding the genetic basis of human evolution by natural selection. She has compared gene expression levels between humans and apes to show that transcription factors, which control when genes are switched on or off, evolved rapidly in humans.
"I feel very honoured and excited to be awarded the Ruth Gani Medal," said Dr Oshlack. "It's an exciting time in genetics the past three years have brought a revolution in the way we do genetics and exponentially increased the possibilities for what we can learn about the genome.
"High-throughput genomic technologies are underpinning the new wave of biology research, giving us amazing new insights into how cells develop and function, and the changes that lead to disease," Dr Oshlack said. "My research is now more focussed on improving our understanding of gene expression and regulation essentially what leads to particular genes being switched on, or expressed, and the factors that control or 'regulate' the switching on or off of genes."
She is currently working on methods that will help understand how stem cells develop and differentiate into different cell types such as skin, lung or blood cells and the changes that occur in diseased cells, such as cancer.
"One aspect of our work is studying epigenetics the factors that control when and how genes are expressed," Dr Oshlack said. "The DNA in all the cells in your body is exactly the same, so how do all these different cell types, wi
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Walter and Eliza Hall Institute