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Transitions in prehistory: subsistence and health change in northern Chile
21 November 2014
Dr Siân Halcrow was awarded $720,000 from the Marsden Fund for her research on Transitions in prehistory: subsistence and health change in northern Chile.
The transition to agriculture marks a critical tipping point in history, precipitating a radical departure from the preceding 2.5 million years of human life. This newly acquired mode of sustenance affected every facet of society including social complexity, technological innovation and settlement patterns. Human skeletal remains provide the only direct evidence for assessing responses to the development of agriculture. Despite the advantages of food security, the model of prehistoric health change during this transition posits that there was a universal negative effect on human well-being. However, recent work indicates that the patterns of biological response to the development of agriculture are far more complex than originally thought. We now have an unparalleled opportunity to test this model of health change with exceptionally large and well-preserved skeletal samples in northern Chile. This skeletal sample has an extensive coverage of the pre-agricultural and agricultural time periods. The pre-agricultural (Chinchorro) period in this region is renowned archaeologically for the earliest examples of artificial mummification in the world, predating Egyptian mummification by over two millennia. The Chinchorro marine hunter-gatherer period (c. 7,000BC-1,500BC) was followed by the Formative Period (c. 1,500BC-AD500), which marks a major transition to an agricultural subsistence base with the cultivation of maize, beans and potatoes. Following this period we see the development of state level society, culminating in the Inca Civilization, the largest empire in pre-Columbian America. We will strengthen the model of health change by documenting dietary and health evidence, employing new approaches to study diet and a comprehensive array of accepted macroscopic methods. This project represents a unique opportunity to advance our understanding of the origin and complex processes of human biological changes during a seminal event in history, one that has far-reaching consequences for our society today.
PI: Dr Siân Halcrow (University of Otago)
AIs: Dr Bernardo Arriaza (Universidad de Tarapaca, Chile), Dr Vivien Standen (Universidad de Tarapaca, Chile), Dr Andrew Millard (Durham University, UK)
Postdoctoral Fellow: Dr Charlotte King (University of Otago)
Dr Karl Iremonger awarded Sir Charles Hercus Fellowship
20 November 2014
Dr Karl Iremonger has been awarded the prestigious Sir Charles Hercus Fellowship from the Health Research Council.
Karl will use the four-year fellowship, valued at $489,062, for his research on Chronic stress induced adaptations in hypothalamic brain circuits.
Click here to read the University of Otago media release.
Professor Greg Cook on the cover of University of Otago Magazine
19 November 2014
Professor Greg Cook has appeared in the November issue of University of Otago Magazine, with his photo featuring on the cover.
Earlier this year Professor Cook was awarded the University's highest research honour, the Distinguished Research Medal. In the two-page article he discusses his background and passion for science, and his lab's recent breakthroughs in developing a more effective TB treatment.
Click here to read the University of Otago Magazine online.
Borrowing from nature’s library: fundamental insights into molecular recognition by chemoreceptors.
12 November 2014
Dr Monica Gerth was recently awarded a Marsden Fast-Start grant of $300,000 for her research on Borrowing from nature’s library: fundamental insights into molecular recognition by chemoreceptors.
In 2013, she received an OSMS Early Career Dean's Bequest grant for this same project. According to Monica, the Dean's Bequest grant allowed her to collect the preliminary data she needed and was critical for her to get her Marsden Fast-Start grant.
The plant pathogen Psa is an important bacterium that is responsible for kiwifruit crop losses in New Zealand and elsewhere. Psa lives in a wide range of environments, including soil, water and plant tissues, and has evolved a complex system to detect chemical signals, to enable it to select a favourable environment for itself.
Bacteria such as Psa have recognition proteins that sense specific chemicals. Psa has a particularly rich inventory of these sensing proteins, which Dr Monica Gerth plans to study in greater detail with a Marsden Fast-Start grant.
Dr Gerth and her team will identify these proteins and the molecules that they recognise. Molecular recognition by proteins is an integral step in most biological processes. Bacterial chemoreceptors provide remarkable examples of molecular recognition: they can detect specific chemicals at miniscule concentrations.
To date, E. coli has been the primary bacterium used for understanding chemoreceptor structure and function. However, the genome of Psa has recently become available. Taking advantage of this, their research will identify and characterise the complete repertoire of Psa’s sensing ability.
The research team also aims to modify the proteins to determine whether they can be manipulated to create new sensing molecules for applications like biosensors and therapeutic targeting.