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JCU researchers conduct first single-cell experiments

JAMES Cook University (JCU) researchers now have the ability to examine the molecular processes occurring in the individual cells that make up everything from cancer to coral, with the introduction of revolutionary new technology to northern Queensland.

JCU Department for Biomedical Sciences and Molecular Biology Professor David Miller said that prior to the installation of JCU’s new 10x Genomics Chromium machine, single cell sequencing technology had not been available in Australia anywhere north of Brisbane. 

For a regional university, such as JCU, this means scientists can conduct pioneering research independently of metropolitan research hubs and in areas that are of specific concern to the tropics

JCU Department for Biomedical Sciences and Molecular Biology Professor David Miller

He said while traditional bulk sequencing methods provide an average of the genetic information from all the cells in a sample, single-cell sequencing means scientists can investigate processes occurring in individual cells in organisms ranging from corals and other invertebrates to humans.

“While the most publicised applications of this technology have been the insights that it has provided into human disease, single-cell sequencing is quietly revolutionising many other areas of the life sciences, including developmental biology, neurobiology and aquaculture,” he said. 

The applications of this technology at JCU range from understanding symbiosis in corals and thermal adaptation in oysters and abalone to human tumour biology. 

JCU scientists have already been putting the new machine to work. 

“A team led by Associate Professor Ulf Schmitz is using the technology to gain insights into the cellular composition and molecular make up of liver tumours while my team is investigating day/night cycles in corals and their interactions with symbionts,” Dr Miller said. 

The costs associated with this technology have previously prevented regional universities from acquiring such a machine but, following a successful Australian Research Council LIEF grant application from Professors David Miller, Jan Strugnell, Dean Jerry, David Whitmore and Denise Doolan it is finally available in Northern Australia. 

“We hope that it’s widely used and delivers not only high-impact science, but also practical benefits to communities across northern Australia,” said Dr Miller.

Keep up with the latest news in Cairns and the Far North, and check out some of our top stories this week: Affirmative consent and stealthing laws and Flying Testicles return to Shitbox Rally.

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