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Our 3 Minute Thesis and Visualise Your Thesis winners

7 September 2020
Making research come to life

Using synthetically made spider venom to potentially create a life-changing drug to finding out how far stingless bees travel during their search for queens are among the winning presentations of the 3 Minute Thesis and Visualise Your Thesis competitions.

When it comes to explaining a topic or demonstrating an activity, many of us would prefer it to be engaging, short and succinct. The 3 Minute Thesis (3MT) and Visualise Your Thesis (VYT) competitions do exactly that, by challenging research students to communicate and distil the essence of their research. The competitions are part of the Connect For: A better future, a program celebrating innovation and impact, on from July - September 2020.

A key skill for all researchers is to succinctly tell the story of their research - what they are doing, why it matters and what they hope to achieve.
Professor Ross Coleman, Director of Graduate Research

“Congratulations to all of our winners, finalists and participants for the very high quality of work in this year’s competitions, which showcase how our students can present really complex work in an engaging way and with outstanding clarity,” Professor Coleman said.

3 Minute Thesis winner: Nisharnthi Duggan from the School of Chemistry

The 3MT competition requires PhD candidates to make a compelling presentation on their thesis topic and its significance to a non-specialist audience in three minutes, using just one slide. The winner of the University of Sydney competition will be invited to compete against students from other universities in the Asia-Pacific final event.

Visualise Your Thesis winner: Francisco Garcia Bulle Bueno, School of Life and Environmental Sciences

The VYT competition challenges graduate researchers to showcase their research topic in an engaging visual presentation lasting just one minute. The winning entry will represent the University of Sydney as a finalist at the International Visualise Your Thesis Competition run by the University of Melbourne.

Winners - 3 Minute Thesis

Maybe we shouldn’t be scared of spiders

Stroke is one of Australia’s biggest killers and a leading cause of disability worldwide. It occurs when blood clots block the flow of blood in the arteries to the brain, meaning brain cells cannot get oxygen. When this happens, a cell death pathway is switched on in the brain, leading to death or permanent brain damage of the stroke victim. Recently, biologists in Queensland have discovered a component of funnel spider venom that can switch off the cell death pathway that occurs after a stroke. They have shown that this spider venom can reduce the extent of brain damage that occurs after a stroke in mice.

Further testing needs to be done which requires large amounts of the molecule and it would be impractical to keep extracting it from spider venom. So instead, as a synthetic chemist, Nisha is working on making this spider venom in the laboratory. There’s still a long way to go, but this molecule has the potential to become an incredibly important and life-changing drug.

Fast and Furious can also win the race

Severely energy-restricted diets of less than 800 calories per day typically involve replacing food with meal replacement products, such as shakes and soups. Such diets are the most effective dietary treatment for obesity. However, there are concerns amongst health professionals that meal replacement diets may fail to educate individuals on how to adopt a healthy food-based diet after weight loss. These concerns, however, are not supported by research and meal replacement diets may therefore be unnecessarily underutilised.

Andrea’s research investigates diet quality following dietary weight loss interventions for obesity. It is foreseen that the findings from this research will influence clinical practice and assist people living with obesity in achieving a healthy weight.

Your life on the big screen

Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)  a younger onset, typically occurring between 45-65 years of age debilitating and progressive fatal brain disorder characterised by a profound change in personality and behaviour.

The capacity to imagine richly detailed scenes in one’s mind’s eye is increasingly being demonstrated to be associated with a range of everyday cognitive processes. Nikki-Anne’s PhD shows a breakdown in the capacity to envisage scenes in FTD, particularly social scenes, is associated with reduced social knowledge and increased behavioural changes. This research has important clinical implications for improving the diagnosis and management of FTD by identifying potential targets for future interventions and reducing the stigma associated with behavioural changes often experienced by those living with dementia.

Winners: Visualise Your Thesis

How to count tropical pollinators in Australia? Estimating the colony density of the Australian native bee Tetragonula carbonaria.

Insect pollination is essential for a wide variety of vegetables and fruit crops worldwide. The security of these food crops rests largely with a single pollinator: the Western honey bee (Apis mellifera). In recent years, however, global instability in honey bee populations has led to calls to diversify the world’s pollination services by enlisting other bee species as alternative pollinators. The stingless bees (Meliponini) are top candidates for this role. Like honey bees, they have the capacity to pollinate many tropical fruits, are highly eusocial, and can be managed and propagated in wooden hives. Plus, they have a large native distribution covering the tropics and subtropics of the world, including Australia.

A critical first step to begin utilising these bees as crop pollinators is to advance the understanding of the reproductive and foraging biology of Tetragonula carbonaria. The lives of stingless bee males between leaving their natal nest and joining a mating swarm remain largely unknown. With the aim to figure out how far male Tetragonula carbonaria travel during their search for queens, Francisco manipulated colonies into rearing virgin queens, deposited the colonies across a maximum distance of 48 km and then analysed the genotypes of the males that formed mating aggregations outside these colonies. He found that males can readily disperse up to 20 km from the nests they were born in, which they probably do over a period of many days. Most males, however, were likely travelling smaller distances, with average distances estimated at around 2 km from thenests where they were born. It is proposed that the genetic diversity of males from mating aggregations can serve as a tool for estimating the population health and colony densities of stingless bees, which are important pollinators of crops and native vegetation across the tropics. 

New ways of illuminating disease

Reactive oxygen species are a group of chemicals implicated in many diseases, including cancer and diabetes, but the relationship is not well understood. Furthermore, reactive oxygen species are short-lived and difficult to measure.

Jiarun’s research involves making new chemical tools that light up, or fluoresce, in the presence of reactive oxygen species and will turn off when there are none. They can thus detect the relative concentrations of reactive oxygen species in living systems. By using these tools in cells and applying different conditions, we can detect hotspots of reactive oxygen species, and link this to the mechanism of different diseases, to better understand and treat disease.

Bedside to bench and bench to bedside – Evaluating the effect of Annona muricata in people living with cancer – The B to B and back study

There has been a trend by people living with cancer in their use of natural products to complement or as an alternative to standard care.  Annona muricata, also known as graviola and soursop, is widely utilised by people living with cancer. Graviola and its constituents have been widely studied for their anticancer properties and efficacy, and both in-vivo and in-vitro data have been comprehensively reviewed.

Jocelin’s research aims to evaluate the safety and tolerability of graviola leaf extract in people living with cancer. It involves a systematic review, quality and safety analysis of commercially available graviola products, cancer cell-line studies and an open-label pilot study of graviola in people living with cancer. By understanding the role of graviola in cancer, we can provide an evidence-based information to clinicians and people living with cancer. 

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year the University held the competitions online, providing an additional challenge for entrants to communicate complex research through virtual formats. The winners and finalists of the University’s 2020 competitions were announced at an online event on Friday 4 September by Professor Coleman.

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