Functional genomics / evo-devo


Understanding biomineralisation

Animals produce multifunctional, durable, tough, elastic, biocompatible, and self-healing natural materials under mild processing conditions. The most striking of these are the biominerals, composites of organic molecules (such as proteins and polysaccharides) and minerals (primarily calcium carbonate, calcium phosphate, or silica) that are precisely controlled to produce complex architectures at nanoscale dimensions.

Biomineralisation research in this laboratory focuses primarily on molluscs and seeks to identify genes involved in controlling shell synthesis, to investigate how these genes have evolved, and to understand how these genetic factors lead to differences in shell (or pearl) properties, including mineralogy and pigmentation.


Molecular aquaculture


Reinvigorating the Queensland oyster industry

The objective of this project is to revitalize the Queensland oyster industry, which has been experiencing very low levels of production since the 1920s. The industry is predominately based on the cultivation of the Sydney rock oyster (Saccostrea glomerata), and regularly suffers mass mortality events due to disease outbreaks.

We aim to revitalise the industry by:

  • Investigating the potential of other native species for aquaculture. This is hampered by the poor state of knowledge of the species that exist in Queensland, and of their natural distributions. Thus, a major aim of this project is to determine the distribution of oyster species around the Queensland coast, and to provide this information to the relevant agencies to facilitate assessment of aquaculture proposals.

  • Improving the survival of S. glomerata, by screening oysters for the presence of QX disease and determining the molecular basis for disease resistance.

  • Using molecular techniques to fast-track efficient hatchery production of the ‘blacklip’ oyster. The blacklip is a large species within the Saccostrea genus that is currently farmed on a small scale in Bowen, Queensland, and Darwin, Northern Territory. This species is an excellent choice for investigation as a new aquaculture species as, being a tropical species, it can be cultured in parts of Australia which do not currently produce edible oysters.

This research is supported by a Queensland Government Advance Queensland Fellowship, Griffith University, the FRDC, the Queensland Oyster Growers Association, and the Queensland Museum.


Shellfish reef restoration

Shellfish reefs are culturally, economically, and ecologically important, but have almost entirely disappeared from Australia’s coastlines. A number of oyster reef restoration projects have commenced within Australia, however (in Queensland at least) very little is known about the target oyster species, their current abundances, and how species composition affects the ecosystem services provided by these reefs. We are currently assisting both the ‘Restore Pumicestone Passage’ and the ‘Bring back the fish’ initiatives by using molecular techniques to reveal more about the oysters that exist within these ecosystems.