Monash names Professor Scott O’Neill as new science Dean

By David Binning
Friday, 13 August, 2010

Monash University has announced the appointment of esteemed Australian scientist and medical researcher Professor Scott O’Neill as the University’s new Dean of Science. Professor O’Neill is currently Head of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Queensland and has previously held positions at Yale University and the University of Illinois. He assumes his new role from June next year.

Professor O’Neill spent 10 years as a scientist in the US where he revelled in the size and diversity of the scientific community there. But he notes that while Australian science occurs on nowhere near the scale of the US, the quality downunder is as good if not better.

“Science happens on a much smaller scale in Australia but I was really struck by the incredible creativity and high quality of work here when I returned.”

Key to maintaining our strong position in internationl science he said is the development of higher standards of science education. “We need a more scientifically literate population generally in Australia”.

Improved general knowledge about science would not only lead to a greater awareness of Australian scientists and scientific institutions, but it might also foster a greater appreciation of the high regard in which they are held in international circles.

For instance, few Australians would know that Professor O’Neill was among the first researchers to apply molecular biological tools to understand the biology of Wolbachia, one of the most common reproductive parasites, and has been a leading researcher in this field for over 10 years. His team recently succeeded in sequencing the first Wolbachia genome and are now applying genomic tools to decipher the molecular mechanisms used by the bacterium to affects host insects.

But it is Professor O’Neill’s work studying dengue fever that promises him and his team serious international kudos.

Funded through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eliminate Dengue Fever Project is an initiative to develop new biological approaches for rendering mosquito populations incapable of transmitting dengue viruses between people and has the potential to significantly reduce reliance on conventional insecticide-based mosquito control.

The project, led by Professor O’Neill, employs around 20 researchers, half of which are expected to follow him to Monash next year. Some 2.5 billion people currently live in areas at risk of dengue transmission, making it potentially one of the word’s worst health epidemics, even eclipsing malaria in some countries.

The first field trials for the Eliminate Dengue Fever Project are set to take place later this year in North Queensland, the results of which will be keenly watched by scientists and medical professionals all over the world.

“All of our lab data is incredibly positive,” Professor O’Neill said.

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