The University of Western Australia’s Professor Ryan Lister is one of 41 scientists worldwide to be appointed a prestigious International Research Scholar by the US-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
For the program, HHMI has teamed up with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to develop scientific talent around the world.
Professor Lister, a Sylvia and Charles Viertel Fellow with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology and the Harry Perkins Institute for Medical Research, will receive a $US650,000 ($AUD868,752) grant over five years to support his research into the epigenome.
He generated the first comprehensive maps of the human epigenome, finding that the chemical signposts that comprise the epigenome differ greatly between embryonic stem cells and specialised adult cells.
Professor Lister also discovered that when specialised human cells were converted into adult stem cells, the reprogrammed adult stem cells retained a memory of the cell they once were.
In addition, his research has found that the epigenome of the mammalian brain is highly distinct and undergoes widespread changes during brain development. A recent study of his also detailed how the epigenome is remodelled very similarly in mammals, fish and amphibians early in embryonic development, during a period when the vertebrate body plan is being established and when these distinct species closely resemble one another.
Professor Lister’s current research involves inventing new tools to edit a suite of chemical tags that decorate the genomes of humans, plants, and other multicellular organisms. A type of epigenetic modification, the tags can regulate gene expression, cell differentiation and development. He also wants to explore their role in brain development, which could offer new insights into neurological disorders.
Professor Lister’s work on human epigenome mapping was rated by TIME magazine as the second most important scientific discovery of 2009.
He has also been awarded the Frank Fenner Prize for Life Scientist of the Year (2014 – Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science), the Ruth Stephens Gani Medal for Distinguished Research in Human Genetics (2014 – Australian Academy of Science) and the 2015 Metcalf Prize, from the National Stem Cell Foundation of Australia, in recognition of his leadership in stem cell research.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays an important role in advancing scientific research and education in the United States. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology.
Professor Ryan Lister (ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology) (+61 8) 6488 4407
David Stacey (UWA Media and Public Relations Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716