Themes at Otago
In order to provide formal recognition and support for outstanding
research activity in the University, the Research Committee
initiated a process for soliciting and reviewing submissions
on areas of research strengths from staff in 1996. The Committee
established two levels of recognition: Major Themes and Emerging
Research Themes and Areas of Research Excellence.
The University currently extends
recognition to 12 Major
Research Themes, and approximately 130
of Research Strength at the University.
Gene Expression and Proteomics
The era of automated DNA sequencing and genome
databases (genomics) has arrived and with it have come new
methods for identifying particular genes and their protein
products (proteomics). It is the expression of a set of genes
in a particular cell type which defines the function of that
cell. The pattern of gene expression can change, for example
during development or as a result of mutation or disease,
so that analysis of altered expression profiles provides fundamental
information on basic biological processes. However, understanding
how such changes come about requires knowledge of factors
that control gene expression as well as the functions of the
individual protein products. Assigning function to a protein
depends strongly on knowing its precise composition and 3-dimensional
structure. Functional proteomics leads in turn to a deeper
understanding of physiological processes.
Such genome to proteome studies rely on some
sophisticated technology now in place on this campus, that
can be applied to the study of any tissue or organism. The
equipment includes a gene microarray facility, laser capture
microscope, LC-mass spectrometer and an X-ray diffraction
facility, all of which have received support from the University.
Underpinning the operations is the use of advanced methods
in computational biology (bioinformatics). A number of proven
investigators are embracing these new technologies with the
common goal of understanding or manipulating gene expression.
In addition to using common methodologies, members of this
theme share a similar intellectual approach to the analysis
of genes and proteins, irrespective of the great diversity
of organisms under study.
Further information: Associate Professor John
Basis of Disease and Protective Immunity
Understanding of the immune response underpins
our understanding of infectious and autoimmune diseases. Cures
for these diseases, as well as cancer and asthma, require
knowledge of the immune response and how it can be manipulated.
Basic and applied research is essential for the health of
both people and economically important livestock.
This is the only New Zealand university,
and one of the few in Australasia, to teach a specific course
in Immunology from first year level to PhD. Nine research
groups are working on research projects that can be grouped
under the theme, "The immunological basis of disease
and protective immunity." The theme has recently expanded
to include immunologists in Crown Research Institutes and
industry. This grouping has been renamed Immunet, and its
aims are to foster immunological research and the training
of immunologists in New Zealand.
Research centres on the development of improved
vaccines against infectious diseases and cancer. It also seeks
to understand the immunology and infectious basis of autoimmune
diseases, control of adhesion molecules in inflammatory diseases,
and the role of the immune system in asthma.
The theme comprises 45 postdoctoral researchers
in the University's medical and health science schools and
the Malaghan Institute. Theme researchers have achieved international
eminence.The theme attracts grant funding of $3 million per
Further information: Dr Glenn
Oral Microbiology and Dental
Oral microbes cause discomfort, distress,
or disease in a large proportion of the population. Tooth
decay (dental caries), for example, which is caused by the
bacteria present in dental plaque, is one of the most common
human diseases, is painful and is costly to treat. Other microorganisms,
such as periodontal pathogens and the yeast Candida albicans,
are also present in the mouth and can give rise to oral diseases.
The research carried out under this theme aims to study the
microorganisms responsible for a range of oral diseases, to
understand how the diseases are caused, and to devise strategies
Membership of the theme is drawn from five
Health Sciences Division departments on the Dunedin and Wellington
campuses. Theme members and collaborators have been awarded
funding in excess of $3 million over the last two years by
a range of national and international funding bodies.
Current objectives include the extension
of collaborative research activities of theme members, the
development of interaction with the dental profession and
the organisation of special symposia on Oral Microbiology
to promote and develop the theme and to increase public awareness
of the research.
Further information: Dr Richard
The Virology research team at the University comprises several
interconnected groups located in the Divisions of Sciences
and Health Sciences, and spread across the Dunedin, Christchurch
and Wellington campuses. Together they have expertise in all
areas of virology.
Current research activities of theme groups encompass multiple
projects in the areas of: viruses and cancer; viruses and
immunity; human and animal health virology; invertebrate virology;
viral infections and diagnosis; vector-borne diseases; plant
virology; and human respiratory disease and hepatitis.
The group has an exceptionally strong track record of publications,
and collaborates internationally with research institutes
in Germany, the UK, the US, Australia, Finland and Israel.
Theme participants have won in excess of $6 million research
funding from national and international sources in the last
Further information: Dr Vernon