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15 Sep 2022

Dr Sebastian Duchene awarded Australian Research Council Future Fellowship

University of Melbourne Dr Sebastian Duchene, Computational Biologist at the Doherty Institute, has been awarded a prestigious Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellowship for his work to uncover how different environmental and ecological variables drive the emergence of variants.

The Fellowship worth more than $740,000, was issued amongst a total of $94 million by the Australian Government to support research projects of national significance.

Understanding the evolution of emerging variants has been highlighted as a significant aspect of pandemic preparedness throughout the response to COVID-19.

Dr Duchene’s previous research has contributed to understanding the rapid emergence of SARS-CoV-2 variants due to the virus’ ability to momentarily accelerate its evolutionary pace.

His research utilises data-driven phylodynamics, the study of the interaction between molecular evolution and epidemiology, to understand the circumstances under which pathogen variants emerge.

“We aim to unravel the mechanisms under which pathogen lineages with increased transmission or virulence come to be, like we saw with SARS-CoV-2 variants.” says Dr Duchene.

Underpinning the project is the extensive analyses of virus genome data, which Dr Duchene notes will provide an opportunity to form a suite of statistical tools for future use.

“Through this work, we will generate new knowledge in the field of pathogen evolution using novel data-driven statistical techniques for genomic analyses.”

The funding will help Dr Duchene bring together experts in genomics and epidemiology, and access innovative technologies to generate new knowledge with the potential to improve biosecurity, agriculture, and heath.

Image credit: Phoebe Powell