Australian Innovation

Tropical Knowledge from Australia’s North

In the tropics, we constantly try to avoid mosquitoes, yet on the Cairns Campus of James Cook University a group of dedicated people regularly enter a specially built sealed enclosure to be bitten.

They are part of a University of Queensland and JCU research team who are breeding mosquitoes incapable of carrying dengue - a fever that poses a huge problem in the tropics and one that threatens to move into more temperate zones as the tropics expand.

On the Townsville campus of JCU there is a pilot plant – soon to be duplicated at power stations around the country – using a revolutionary procedure developed by JCU researchers to transform algae into biodiesel.  The aim of the project, which has won support from the Queensland Government and investment by MBD Energy, is to produce a sustainable green alternative to fossil fuels.

Such examples of the innovative and practical research being carried out at JCU that will have far-reaching impacts are mirrored right across our campuses.

The JCU based Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine (AITM) brings together a wide range of internationally recognised research expertise in areas such as the control of vector borne diseases (dengue fever, malaria, and lymphatic filariasis), melioidosis, Group A streptococcal infection, strongyloidosis, and avian, amphibian and aquatic infections.

For example JCU research on lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), has made an important contribution to controlling one of the world’s most disfiguring tropical infectious diseases, one that puts at risk more than a billion people in more than 80 countries.

Another group of JCU researchers have developed new generation turbidity sensors and software with instruments designed for remote deployment and data acquisition for weeks at a time.  The technology has a major application in monitoring the effects of dredging associated with port development and maintenance and almost all major capital dredging programs on the Queensland and Western Australian coasts now routinely use it.

Others have pioneered the development of High Frequency (HF) radar systems, which makes possible the mapping of real-time dynamics and velocities of sea-surface currents across substantial areas of inshore waters. The equipment provides information that will be used to monitor marine spills, sewage outfall release, shipping and boating activity and marine rescue operations.

Because of JCU research, the World Organisation for Animal Health has placed chytrid fungal infection on the Wildlife Diseases List, the first entry specific to amphibians.

Yet another group has developed a way of enhancing the growth and quality of the tropical aquatic vegetable “green caviar” leading to industry investment to target the market in Asia, particularly Japan.

There is research in sustainable tourism; the pioneering efforts of the Cyclone Testing Station; the Cairns Institute, which adds a vital human, social and cultural dimension to the University’s other renowned research centres; and, of course JCU’s pre-eminent role in reef research based on the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and strong collaboration with AIMS and GBRMPA.

JCU also plays a major role in bring together researchers, industry groups, government and economic development organisations to tackle the issues facing the tropics.  In August alone this year there will be a series of symposiums in Cairns leading off with the 60th Anniversary Australian-American Fulbright Symposium.

Hosted by JCU, the symposium will investigate what the US and Australia can do singularly and collaboratively in the tropics with a focus on Tropical Health and Medicine, Environmental Sustainability, Economic and Political Development, and, Strengthening Communities.

It will be followed immediately by the TropLinks International Symposium on the “business of tropical expertise”.  JCU was part of the creation last year of TropLinks, an association of research bodies and industry groups

On the same weekend the second Torrid Zone symposium, a collaboration between JCU and the Office of the Queensland Chief Scientist, will be held as well as a WHO and JCU sponsored roundtable to develop strategies to tackle neglected tropical diseases.

When JCU was being established – and we celebrate our 40th birthday this year – the concept of a university of and for the tropics was a key argument in the parliamentary debates.  The practical application of the innovative research at James Cook University and its partners shows that vision is being met.


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