Masters Projects


I may  take on up to two Masters students starting in 2018/2019. Take a look at the projects I am suggesting below. If you are interested please contact me.  I will arrange for you to come to have a chat and to visit my lab and meet the folks in my lab.  I am also willing to consider other related projects - particularly those associated with insect genetics. 


CR1: Gene Drives for Insect Control


Gene drives are being actively studied as a means to control pest insect populations. However there is much to learn about their effectiveness and hazards. This project will investigate some design features of gene drives, mechanisms by which resistance could arise, in experimental populations of Drosophila melanogaster. A potential target for gene drives is Drosophila suzukii a major pest to horticulture that has not arrived in Australia yet. So the project may also examine comparative genomics between Drosophila species.


CR2: Genome wide association studies of novel insecticides

Before a new insecticide is released on to the market there are many characteristics for which it should be assessed. What is its mode of action (i.e. what is the molecular mechanism by which it kills insects)? Which insects does it impact on?  How easy will insecticide resistance arise? Is cross resistance with other insecticides likely? We are developing the Drosophila Genetic Reference Panel to address such questions because it is an outstanding resource to perform systems biology. In this project the student will perform Genome Wide Association Studies and use those to explore the impact  of novel insecticides.

CR3: Approaching a 'systems ' understanding of insecticide resistance

We have now screened the Drosophila Genetic Reference Panel with multiple insecticides. Our data sets have enabled us to do Genome Wide Association Studies and Transcription wide Association Studies, and these have identified very interesting genes that we wish to characterize further using the wonderful genetic manipulation techniques available to Drosophila melanogaster. In particular we will explore genes encoding detoxification enzymes induced by phenobarbital and other compounds. GWAS traditionally ignore the extent of epistasis and yet enzyme kinetics and the inherent complexity of biological systems (such as inducibility) would lead us to expect that non-additive interactions would be common. This project will set out to experimentally characterize epistatic interactions in our insecticide resistance traits.

CR4: Insect enzymes for biotechnology applications

An emerging biotechnology is the engineering of enzyme pathways  to create bio-active molecules in large amounts.  This project will use the Australian dwarf tobacco (Nicotiana benthamiana) protein expression system to characterize insect enzymes and pathways they act in.

CR5: The development of ribonucleoprotein sprays to control aphids.


A decade ago some pioneering publications provided hope that RNA interference technology might deliver pest-specific insecticides (Baum et al. 2007 Nature biotechnology 25, 1322-1326, Mao et al. 2007 Nature Biotechnology 25, 1307-1313). It was envisioned that double stranded RNA (dsRNA) would be delivered to the pests through sprays (environmental RNAi) or through transgenic plants so that key genes of exposed pests would be silenced and consequently the pests would have reduced fitness or fecundity.   The development of this technology has been disappointing. While genes of some insects have been knocked down in laboratory settings, they have not advanced to efficient pest control agents. In a growing number of cases it has been found that insect enzymes (RNAses) degrade the dsRNA before it elicits its desired effect. However recent advances suggest that proteins can be synthesized that bind the dsRNA, protect it from RNAses, and efficiently deliver it across the cell membrane (Gillet et al. 2017 Frontiers in Physiology 8 article 256). In this research project the student will generate novel ribonucleoproteins and test their efficacy against aphid pests.

CR6: CRISPR in aphids

There is so much intriguing biology associated with aphids; they may alternate between sexual and asexual forms depending on environmental cues, they depend on an intracellular endosymbiont, they vector many plant viruses and avoid plant immune systems. However we understand little about the molecular genetics of these processes because no reliable reverse genetic approaches or functional genomic approaches have been developed in them. CRISPR is a revolutionary tool that could change this. The development of CRISPR technology in mosquitoes using protein co-factors is the inspiration behind the project being suggested here. If you want to know more; come and see me!

CR7: The functional characterization of insect x-kinases

Until recently, all that was known about the x-kinases was that they  contained  'domain of unknown function 227'. We are changing that using the powerful functional characterization tools available to Drosophila melanogaster.  There is plenty of work to do with these - so come and chat to me, Jack or Bec.

For more information about the Masters program click here: