Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Grants and My friend the Chocolate Cake

I'm miles behind on my blogging, but in the meantime we've written an ARC Discovery Grant and three National Health and Medical Research Grants. The  last of those were submitted to Canberra today. As I was walking home from University today I was listening to some old 1990s music on my headphones, and happened to be listening to "I've got a plan" by My Friend the Chocolate Cake.

The lyrics "I've got another plan, this time it will work" seemed appropriate given the grant writing we've been doing to try to attract funding for our on-going research to investigate mechanisms of virulence in the pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii, to understand how bacteria control drug efflux pumps that make their resistant to antibiotics, and to see if we can use "friendly" plant root bacteria to protect against agricultural crops against plant pathogens. Now we just have to wait eight months or so to see if any of these projects get funded.

This totally looks like the chocolate mud cakes from cafes in Glebe that I used to live on when I was a PhD student

Friday, 20 February 2015


How do you motivate me to do something I don't want to? Turn it into a game or competition!

For Valentine's Day, I bought Fitbit flexs for Phyllis and myself. A somewhat courageous choice of present that seems to have worked out well. Fitbits are wearable devices that can track your activity (exercise, sleep patterns, etc).

So, I now know that walking  from my home to Macquarie University in the morning through the Lane Cove National Park is 4.8 km and takes 5,700 steps (which puts me along way towards the daily goal of 10,000 steps).

The odd thing is that even though I have not work a watch for over twenty years, I find myself trying to check the time on my Fitbit flex many times a day.

Warning- scary closeup of my arm

Mind those sausage-stealing kookaburras

I was out at the Sydney Institute of Marine Sciences (SIMS) last Friday. I gave a guest lecture to finish up the SIMS-CMB Summer Course on Marine Microbial Ecology. Suhelen Egan at UNSW has been organizing this course for the last few years, this has been the first time I've actually been able to make it. It was a fun day, Martin from my group was able to get a portable flow sorter setup and the students were able to sort cyanobacterial cells from Sydney Harbour water they had collected that morning.

I gave the final presentation of the workshop, which had the added advantage that I was there for the celebratory BBQ at the end of the workshop. The only danger were the local sausage-stealing kookaburras. One of the students was a favourite target of the kookaburras, losing several BBQ-ed sausages to them. Next year we might had to add an extra lecture to the course on how to defend your food from kookaburras.
Kookaburra at SIMS. Actually food-stealing kookaburras are a problem at Macquarie Univerity as well- I once lost a lemon poppyseed muffin to a kookaburra

Monday, 16 February 2015

Welcome Lisa!

We're very pleased to welcome Professor Lisa Moore from the University of Southern Maine, who is visiting us on sabbatical for four months. Lisa's visit is supported by a prestigious Endeavour Foundation Fellowship. Lisa is an expert on the physiology of Prochlorococcus, a photosynthetic marine cyanobacterium that is one of the key primary producers underlying the entire marine food web.
Fun fact- there are an estimated 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 Prochlorococcus cells in the world's oceans.
We will be collaborating with Lisa on sequencing and bioinformatic analyses of marine cyanobacterial samples from around the world's oceans.


Thursday, 12 February 2015

Creating a new society

I was in Melbourne last week meeting with synthetic biologists from all around Australia. We have  decided to form a new society or association representing synthetic biologists. Claudia Vickers from the University of Queensland is the driving force behind this new body and our meeting decided this she should be our chairperson or president (still working on the terminology). I was volunteered into being deputy president? vice chairperson? something like that anyway. As well as needing to finalize titles, we're still working on the name of our new learned society, because its important to have a good acronym. The Australian Society for Synthetic Biology (ASSB) clearly is not a good option.

For those of you who want to know more about synthetic biology please see some of my previous posts-
Yeast 2.0 at Macquarie
Greetings from Boston

That reminds me, while we don't yet have a website up for our new synthetic biology organization, we do now have a live website for Synthetic Biology at Macquarie.

Synthetic Biology Image taken from

Congratulations Dr. Farrugia!

Congratulations to Daniel Farrugia, who has been awarded a PhD for his work in my group on the bacterial pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii. Daniel has published a couple papers examining the differences between hospital and community strains of this pathogen, and when I manage to find time to finalize them, has two more manuscripts still to come. Daniel is now currently taking a well deserved break in Malta, and I believe will soon be looking for a postdoctoral position in Europe.
You are stuck with this until I find a more appropriate photo

Friday, 30 January 2015


Well its been over 2 months since I've managed to carve out any time to put up a blog post. December was a blur of talks and interview for faculty candidates at MQ. I gave 5 talks in two weeks. Perhaps the most unusual was a talk at a Workshop on the Ethics and Regulation of Synthetic Biology. This workshop was held in the Trinity Chapel at Robert Menzies College. I can honestly say that was the first time I've ever given a scientific talk in a church. Luckily, I didn't get struck by lightning, though you can see a near miss in the image below. In the same 2-3 weeks in December, we also interviewed 7 candidates for faculty positions at MQ, and I was on the interview panel for all of the candidates.

Since I've accumulated way too much vacation leave, I was then on enforced vacation for a month as the university had ordered me to take vacation. After a frenzy of Borderlands- the PreSequel and FarCry 4, I'm now back at work, and only have a thousand unread emails or so to deal with.