UPDATE: The Australian Thinker of the Year 2007, Professor Jenny Graves, is featured in Nature Cover story on the 8th May, 2008 (Volume 453 Number 7192 pp133-256) …
“It’s probably the most eagerly awaited genome since the chimp genome because platypuses are so weird,” said Professor Jenny Graves of the Australian National University in Canberra. She is one of the co-authors of the study published in the scientific journal Nature.
“There was a fork in the road and the platypus went one way and humans and other placental mammals went another”, says the research leader Jenny Graves.
••• Click here for more on this cover story in Nature …
SOT: MELBOURNE. July 2007:
The ‘mammal lady’, who controversially claimed through her comparative genomics research that the male determining Y chromosome will become extinct, has been named Australian Thinker of the Year 2007.
The prestigious award, created by the School of Thinking in partnership with the Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre, is in its third year and was created to recognise the contribution Australian thinkers make globally.
This year’s winner, Professor Jenny Graves of The Australian National University (ANU) and Melbourne University, is one of Australia’s most influential scientists, renowned for her research into the function and evolution of human genes, particularly those responsible for determining a baby’s sex.Winner of the UNESCO Prize for Women in Science in 2006 and, in the same year, the Macfarlane Burnett Medal for Biology, Professor Graves is celebrated as a role model to women scientists and an inspiration to students of genetics.
But the now renowned scientist almost didn’t take on this line of work. She says she wasn’t interested in becoming ‘one of those Australians who end up working on the local fauna’.
“Over time it dawned on me that we have a genetic goldmine here; that kangaroos and platypus do things differently from placental mammals and that you can often figure out what the ancestral system was like from how the two systems differ.
“The genetic variation between such distantly related species is a very powerful way to discover new genes – in humans and all mammals – and figure out how they are turned on and off during development.”
She says it’s a career path she’s now very glad she ventured down. “Science is very exciting. It’s not easy but it’s incredibly exciting. It really grabs you and it doesn’t let you go. It’s a detective story and it’s an adventure story and you never know what’s going to happen next.”
Principal of the School of Thinking, Dr Michael Hewitt-Gleeson, says for a small country we “think way above our weight.”
“The School of Thinking has taught more people to think than any other school in history. The contribution Australian thinkers make globally is disproportionate to our relatively small number of 21 million brains out of 6.5 billion.”
Melbourne Exhibition and Convention Centre chief executive Leigh Harry says the MECC is delighted to be involved in assisting with such a significant accolade. “Melbourne is the thinking capital, and leaders in the scientific, medical and research fraternities both here and internationally are looking to us to hold major conventions and meetings, helped by our increasingly growing reputation in this area. This award just adds to that.”
• Australian Thinker of the Year 2006
Professor Graves joins Professor German Spangenberg who was last year’s Australian Thinker of the Year in recognition of his innovations in pasture plant genomics and innovations for the benefit of agriculture.
• Australian Thinker of the Year 2005
The first title went to Melbourne Professor Michael Georgeff in 2005 for his ground breaking research in artificial intelligence and his practical application of intelligent systems for improving health care.