The University of Sydney has gained two out of three Australian L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science fellowships, with two young veterinary science researchers achieving the accolade just one week after the University led the Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science.
Tonight at a ceremony in Melbourne, Dr Camilla Whittington and Dr Angela Crean will be officially announced as Fellows with $25,000 each to spend on a one-year project. They join Dr Jenny Fisher (University of Wollongong). As well, Dr Erin Leitao (University of Auckland) will receive the Fellowship for New Zealand.
Both Dr Whittington and Dr Crean are early career researchers in the Faculty of Veterinary Science, working in the area of reproduction; both are in research positions funded through the Mabs Melville bequest in excess of $7.2m – one of the biggest gifts ever received by Veterinary Science.
The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Program was founded to promote the importance of increased participation of women in science. The program recognises exceptional female scientists at different stages of their careers and awards them with fellowships to help further their research.
Dr Crean’s initial research, using the sea squirt as a model organism, showed males can adjust their sperm quality and quantity in response to a perceived risk that their sperm will have to compete against another male’s sperm to fertilise an egg. The sperm quality also had adaptive consequences for both fertilisation and offspring survival.
Similar work using the neriid fly showed sperm quality could be adjusted by the father’s diet and social environment.
The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Fellowship will allow Dr Crean to conduct a proof-of-concept study supporting her transition from pure evolutionary research to practical applications in human reproductive health and medicine.
Dr Whittington, who last year was one of five University of Sydney researchers who won a 2015 NSW Young Tall Poppy Science Award, is using cutting‐edge techniques to identify pregnancy genes – the instructions in an animal's DNA causing them to have a live baby rather than laying an egg.
"Pregnant lizards, fish and mammals face complex challenges, like having to provide nutrients to their embryos and protect them from disease," said Dr Whittington, a University of Sydney alumnus BScAgr ’07; PhD (VetScience) ’11.
"My research suggests that these distantly related animals can use similar genetic instructions to manage pregnancy and produce healthy babies," Dr Whittington said.
Her fellowship will allow her to investigate how the complex placenta has evolved independently in mammals, lizards, and sharks to transport large quantities of nutrients to the fetus.
Further information is on the L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science website