World leader in genomics joins UNSW

Geneticist Professor John Mattick will join the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences in October as the University's latest SHARP hire.
Lucy Carroll | UNSW Newsroom

One of the world’s foremost experts on the human genome, Professor John Mattick, will join UNSW Sydney in October under the University’s Strategic Hires and Retention Pathways (SHARP) initiative.

Professor Mattick, a molecular biologist, has revolutionised the way we understand “junk DNA”, the name once given to 98% of the human genome that does not make protein. His research has found that junk DNA – or non-coding sections of DNA – in fact produce tens of thousands of RNAs, molecules that may play a major role in human development.

Professor Mattick will join UNSW’s Faculty of Science, further strengthening genomics research in the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences (BABS).

Last week Professor Mattick was awarded the 2019 Advance Global Impact Award in recognition of his contributions to genomics, the study of all information in our DNA, and the clinical application of genome analysis.

The Advance Awards celebrate Australians living around the world who show remarkable talent, exceptional vision and ambition. This year’s 10 category winners represent a range of leaders from technology innovation, financial services and health care, to social impact, sustainability and the arts.

Professor Mattick, the former head of the Garvan Institute of Medical Research, has made a significant contribution during his career to defining the trajectory of genomic medicine globally.

He has been recognised by the Australian government for his contributions to setting up multiple research institutes and national facilities in molecular biology and genomics, including the establishment of the Institute for Molecular Bioscience and the development of the Queensland government’s Smart State Strategy. At the Garvan Institute, he established one of the world’s first facilities capable of sequencing human genomes for $1000.

“The availability of millions of genome sequences and matched clinical and other data will transform medical research,” Professor Mattick said. “It will become a key part of personal medical records and be used to improve health care and the efficiency of healthcare systems.”

To equip university science students for this future, Professor Mattick says, informatics should form an integral part of education.

“Along with statistics and the history of science, students should be taught to write code and use big data, as they are central to all the natural sciences. Those who have these skills will have the greatest opportunity to drive the most impactful scientific advances.”

Professor Marcel Dinger, Head of School of UNSW’s School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences, said: “Professor Mattick is a world leader and pioneer in the biology of noncoding RNAs.

“His visionary insights and work have transformed our understanding of the nature of genomic information in complex organisms, and the central role of RNA in their evolution and development. He has also been a tireless advocate for advancing the use of genomics in health care. We are thrilled to have him join the School.”

Professor Emma Johnson, Dean of Science, said: “We are delighted to be welcoming Professor Mattick to UNSW Science where he will continue to make vital contributions to the vibrant areas of contemporary molecular, cellular, developmental, evolutionary and human biology.”

The 2019 Advance Award winners will be formally presented with their awards at Advance’s awards ceremony on 17 October.