ATA Scientific would like to thank all those that participated in our December 2020 Encouragement Award promotion.

The topic of our latest competition focused on the Eurovision song contest and the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to compose songs.  Since most songs are related to human personal interactions such as love songs we asked our participants to consider how they would feel about an affectionate song dedicated to them composed by a robot. Some argued that we are already using intelligent software to create compelling music, with an intention directly aimed at driving more sales. The question then arises, will music composed using AI eventually all sound the same? As AI increasingly becomes part of our daily lives and builds into creative practice, many artists see it as a useful tool, not unlike a camera or a paintbrush.


Three entries were selected to receive our award– first prize at $1500 and 2 runners up at $600 each.

Congratulations to our first prize winner, Dr Ben Vezina, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Monash University, Department of Infectious Diseases, working under the supervision of Dr Kelly Wyres.

‘Research science revolves around spending time problem-solving, discovering and working out new concepts with some of the most creative, clever, curious and educated people in the world, so it’s one of my favourite spaces to be. More specifically, I want to help resolve issues around antibiotic resistance as well as continue basic research into bacteria, which are curious microscopic life forms with incredible complexity.’

Ben’s current research project focuses on disease-causing bacteria called Klebsiella pneumoniae, which causes a variety of infections in humans. While it inhabits a diverse range of environments and hosts, we don’t yet understand how this is related to its ability to cause disease, or how it spreads within human populations. Ben’s research team believes it may have something to do with the genetic diversity of Klebsiella pneumoniae’s DNA, which allows different populations of the bacteria to survive in different environments. To work this out, Ben uses computer software to study DNA of Klebsiella pneumoniae to determine which compounds they require for survival. This may help explain whether or not Klebsiella pneumoniae found in the environment are contributing to the spread of human infections.

Ben plans to spend his award on attending the evolutionary/microbiological conference SMBE 2021. ‘Having an opportunity to meet with international researchers is important for me to develop ideas, collaborations and continue contributing to the field.’

Congratulations to our runner up, Jiayue Clara Jiang, a final-year PhD candidate at the School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences, the University of Queensland, under the supervision of Dr Kyle Upton and Associate Professor Joe Rothnagel.

Clara’s project focuses on the genetic mechanisms behind breast cancer, the most common type of cancer affecting Australian women. By combining bioinformatics with molecular approaches, Clara seeks to understand the role of transposons, or “jumping genes”, in the transcriptional regulation of breast cancer. Clara employs various bioinformatic tools to analyse transcriptomics and epigenetics data, such as RNA-seq and ChIP-seq, and to identify transposons with putative regulatory roles in breast cancer. She then validates the activities of these transposons using wet-lab approaches, and investigate the effects of transposon-derived regulatory activities on oncogene expression and cancer phenotypes. The identification of transposon-driven oncogene activation events in cancer provides additional insights into the cancer genome, and potentially provides novel biomarkers for disease diagnosis and targets for treatments.

After her PhD, Clara plans to continue her research career in the fields of cancer biology, genomics or transcriptomics as a post-doc. In addition, Clara is a member of the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Committee at her School, and intends to continuously advocate for workplace equity and diversity in the future.

‘I plan to use the award to attend the ComBio2022 conference, or other bioinformatics/ cancer-related conferences. The opportunity to present my findings at these events will help me increase the impact of my research, and to broaden my network.’

Congratulations to our runner up, Callum Verdonk, PhD Candidate, The University of Western Australia, Protein Production and Structure Facility, under the supervision of Prof. Charlie Bond and Dr. Josh Ramsay.

Callum’s project focusses on bacterial DNA transfer – specifically how a particular type of protein is involved in mobile DNA excision and transfer.

‘My career goals are to continue in the research field, investigating further bacterial studies, particularly focusing on mobile DNA elements and bacterial evolution. I have a particular interest in continuing my knowledge of biochemistry and genetic manipulation techniques.’

Callum uses biophysical techniques such as surface plasmon resonance and microscale thermophoresis to investigate protein-DNA interactions, as well as structural biology techniques such as X-ray crystallography and small-angle X-ray scattering to elucidate protein and complex molecular structures.

‘I would’ve loved to go to Lorne proteins 2021!’

Given the limitation on in-person conferences, Callum plans to spend his award money on purchasing equipment for sequencing-related work to help investigate a new exciting discovery!

We would like to thank all those that participated. The next Encouragement Award will be posted on our website soon.

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