Emerging infectious diseases - Chair: Sir John Skehel
Professor Anne O'Garra FRS, Francis Crick Institute
The Host Transcriptome in Infection
Analysis of the blood transcriptional response to infection has provided valuable information on immune factors contributing to disease progression. This approach has several advantages. Blood contains the effector cells of the immune system which traffic to and from the site of disease, facilitating the study of changes at inaccessible sites. Tuberculosis, caused by infection with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. Efforts to control tuberculosis are hampered by difficulties with diagnosis, prevention and treatment. Most people infected with M. tuberculosis remain asymptomatic/latent with a 10% lifetime risk of developing active disease. We identified a blood transcript signature for active tuberculosis which correlated with the radiological extent of disease, was diminished upon successful treatment, and was absent in healthy individuals and the majority of those with latent tuberculosis. Identification of a meta-signature of active tuberculosis in 13 independent studies, by analysis of publicly available datasets, confirmed the robustness of this approach. The blood signature of tuberculosis is dominated by an interferon (IFN)-inducible gene profile, consisting of both IFN and Type I IFNαβ signaling, suggesting a hitherto under-appreciated role of Type I IFNαβ signalling in the pathogenesis of tuberculosis. Our subsequent studies have defined mechanisms underlying the contribution of type I IFN to exacerbation of tuberculosis. Collectively, these studies provide strategies for the design and implementation of blood transcriptomic tools to support diagnostics and treatment monitoring of tuberculosis, and the development of potential therapeutics. The approach is similarly being applied to the study of other infectious diseases.
Professor Yaw Adu-Sarkodie, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology
Controlling the global threat of Emerging Infectious Diseases – lessons from the Ebola outbreak
The West Africa Sub region was declared Ebola-free in March 2016 following from an epidemic in 2014 which caused 28,646 cases and claimed the lives of 11,323 people. Many interventions were carried out to bring the epidemic under control. These ranged from local community efforts, regional support from West Africa and efforts of the International/Global community. With the best of intentions, some of these efforts divided communities, further hampering control efforts and also led to export of infections to other countries far away from the index countries where the epidemic began. Could coordination of these efforts have been better done and are there any lessons to learn for the future? This presentation will address these issues.
Professor Hugh Taylor, University of Melbourne
Emerging and disappearing infectious diseases; progress towards the Global Elimination of Trachoma
Trachoma is an ancient, blinding eye infection caused by Chlamydia trachomatis. Repeated episodes of conjunctivitis cause prolonged inflammation leading to scarring of the upper eyelid and inturned eyelashes that cause blindness. Although most infection occurs in young children, blindness usually develops in older adults. Blindness results from 150 – 200 episodes of re-infection.
In 1997, the World Health Organization (WHO) initiated the Global Elimination of Trachoma by the year 2020 (GET2020) using the SAFE Strategy (surgery for inturned eyelashes, antibiotic treatment, facial cleanliness and environmental improvement) to eliminate trachoma. Then 54 countries had endemic trachoma. Following a huge global effort three countries now have elimination of trachoma and seven others are awaiting verification. The Diamond Jubilee Trust was established in 2013 to recognise the Queen. It has supported trachoma programs in five African Commonwealth countries, Kenya, Mozambique, Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda, four Pacific Island countries, Fiji, Kiribati, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, and Australia. In parallel, DFID has provided over 60 million pounds to support the global mapping of trachoma and other trachoma activities in seven other African countries.
Australia is the only developed country to still have trachoma, although considerable progress has been made over the last eight years with particular attention paid to health promotion to reduce transmission with improved facial cleanliness.
Overall, there is good progress in eliminating this blinding scourge and trachoma is projected to be eliminated in 75% of the countries by 2020 and in the remaining by around 2025.
Sustainable cities - Chair: Professor Teck Seng Low
Professor Peter Edwards, Singapore-ETH Centre
Making cities liveable, sustainable and resilient: innovative research at the Singapore-ETH Centre
We are in the throes of an extraordinary demographic transition, with an increasing proportion of the world’s population living in large urban areas. In 1950 there was just one city with a population of over 10 million (the usual definition of a megacity); today there are over 30. Because large cities are such a recent phenomenon, we still know little about how they develop and function, and about the impact they have upon surrounding rural areas. But such knowledge will be essential if we are to construct and manage urban areas in ways that are both sustainable and resilient.
Against this background, many universities are now investing heavily in new forms of urban research that link science, engineering and design, and make heavy use of information technology and ‘big data’. One of pioneers in this ‘new urban science’ is the Singapore-ETH Centre (part of Singapore’s CREATE campus), with its programmes ‘Future Cities Laboratory’ and ‘Future Resilient Systems’. In this presentation I show how these programmes apply concepts from ecology, complexity science and network theory in their effort to understand cities and develop ideas to make them more liveable and resilient. And at a larger scale, I show some of the complex inter-dependencies between cities and their surroundings, characterized by flows of natural resources, people and wealth, and by less tangible things such as ideas and cultural influences. I argue that this kind of multidisciplinary research, conducted in close collaboration with stakeholders, will be essential for a sustainable urban future.
Professor Barbara Norman, University of Canberra
Innovative platforms are critical for sharing knowledge and experience to solve complex urban problems: three case studies on cities, coasts and climate change.
Innovative platforms are increasingly being recognised as critical for sharing knowledge and experience to solve complex urban problems including urban transport, the built environment, climate change and green infrastructure. I will present three examples connecting science, policy and the community by providing platforms for connecting and implementing more sustainable urban solutions. The first is the development of a national ‘climate ready cities’ policy information brief for Australian cities, the second is national award winning guidelines for coastal centres planning for climate change and the third is an innovative knowledge platform Canberra Urban & Regional Futures established 2010. I wish to share our research findings and the opportunities and lessons learned at the national, regional and local scale. I will also highlight possible wider application and the scope for partnerships with other commonwealth nations.
Professor Michael Keith, University of Oxford
The future of the future city
In many domains we see a proliferation of claims made about how we can predict and measure the future city, how we make visible its form and shape its settlement. This presentation considers the historical context of such claims making around urban futures and the promise (and promises) of attempts to make visible the urban as a ‘lab’ or ‘observatory’ through which we might ‘see like a city’. The paper considers the potential for academic research to inform the capacity of cities to anticipate and reshape the challenges that characterise 21st century urban life through engaged scholarship.
Towards low carbon energy - Chairs: Professor Andrew Holmes and Professor Andrew Wee
Professor DD Sarma, Indian Institute of Science
Organic-inorganic hybrid and all-inorganic ferroelectric perovskite materials for photovoltaic applications: The role of the polar field
One of the areas involving intense activities to improve photovoltaic efficiency involves making use of ferroelectric materials, as it offers the possibility of splitting the photo-excited electron-hole pair with the help of the internal polar field. There are two distinct classes of systems where this concept has been invoked in recent times, leading to a great deal of excitement in the community. One class of materials is based on organic-inorganic hybrid methyl ammonium (MA) lead halides (MAPbX3, with X = I, Br, and Cl) compounds that have led to extraordinary efficiencies of > 20% in conjunction with many other attractive features, such as solution processability. An intensely debated issue in this field concerns the ability of permanent dipoles on MA units to give rise to polar fields, either in the normal state (as in the case of any ferroelectric material) or in the photo-excited state, contributing to its spectacular photovoltaic properties. The other class of materials are based on well-known inorganic ferroelectric materials; unfortunately, most such materials have large bandgaps, thereby not being able to harvest a major part of the solar spectrum. Our own efforts in these areas rely on investigating physical properties of hybrid materials with a host of techniques that are differently sensitive to polar nature of any given material, probing time-scales from the static down to a few hundred femto-seconds, both without and in presence of photo-excitation to address the outstanding issue of polar fields in this case. Our results conclusively establish the absence of any significant polar field in MAPbX3, In the case of all inorganic materials, we show how solid state chemistry can be used to reduce the bandgap of ferroelectric materials significantly while retaining their ferroelectric properties, making these more suitable for solar light harvesting applications.
Professor Ya-Huei (Cathy) Chin, University of Toronto
Catalytic Production of Low Carbon Fuels
Lignocellulosic biomass is an attractive, renewable feedstock for producing sustainable fuels and chemicals. It is structurally complex and contains not only carbon and hydrogen, but also oxygen, thus its deconstruction and chemical transformation face significant technological challenges. I will discuss the various catalytic processing strategies aimed for the removal of oxygen heteroatoms from biomass derived molecules, focusing specifically on the reactivity and selectivity tuning via designing catalysts and chemical processes to enable selective oxygen removal. I will describe the chemical strategies for creating catalytically active sites and local reaction environment that promote kinetically coupled reactions, minimizing the use of hydrogen and the loss of carbon atoms to lighter products. The emphasis is on applying catalytic knowledge at the molecular scale level to rationally design the highly effective and selective active surfaces with atomically precise structures. The fundamental knowledge of catalytic chemistry, when applies together with reaction engineering strategies, would allow us to improve the atom and energy efficiencies.
Professor Phuti Ngoepe, University of Limpopo
Nanoscale modeling of low carbon energy storage materials
Climate change has prompted reduction in usage of fossil fuels in favour of low carbon energy sources, particularly renewables such as solar and wind. This is also an affordable option of expanding supply of much needed electricity in some developing countries of the Commonwealth. However, a major drawback is the intermittent nature of renewables, and limited ability of storing generated energy. Consequently, extensive studies on lithium ion batteries and beyond, are conducted to find and optimise materials for good performing, affordable and safe batteries. The 25th anniversary on commercialisation of lithium ion batteries was celebrated in 2016, where noteworthy achievements in electronics, transportation and stationary units were highlighted. This provides an ideal opportunity for addressing goals of value addition to natural resources, especially in developing countries, whilst promoting usage of low carbon energy.
We have used high performance computing methods to simulate synthesis of metal oxide composites with complex nano-architectures. Recently, we laid a framework for modelling composites of layered and spinel structures, reported amongst high capacity lithium-metal-oxide cathodes for lithium-ion batteries by Thackeray, but with potential for performance enhancement. Our simulated microstructures were characterised and validated with high resolution transmission electron microscope images and X-ray diffractions results. The performance of such composites was predicted from mechanical properties which demonstrated, at a nanoscale, that electrochemical activity of batteries is sustained by maintaining open pathways for lithium ion transport during charging and discharging processes. This is mainly achievable in certain nano-architectures which confer long battery life, whilst enabling fast charge by providing access for electrolytes into voids and pores of battery electrodes.
Future of the oceans - Chair: Professor Alex Halliday
Professor Gideon Henderson FRS, University of Oxford
Metals in the ocean
Metals such as iron, zinc, and manganese are required for biological processes to function in the oceans. These metals are present at low concentration, and their supply can limit the amount or type of life present across large areas of the oceans. Metals can also be toxic to life, including notable pollutants such as lead and mercury. Recent scientific advances have overcome analytical challenges to develop a more complete understanding of the natural marine cycling of metals, and the relationship between metals and biological systems. This talk will summarise some of these key developments in understanding.
Oceanic metal cycles are perturbed by human activity. Direct anthropogenic fluxes to the ocean increase metal concentrations, and secondary changes to the ocean, such as acidification and decreasing oxygen concentration, create significant change in metal cycles. Intentional manipulation of the iron cycle has also been proposed, to stimulate fish stocks and ocean CO2 uptake, but is highly controversial.
A major additional factor in future metal cycles may be the pursuit of mining on the sea floor. Significant deposits of metals are present in nodules, crusts, and mass sulphide formations found on the seafloor of the deep ocean, sometimes at grades higher than those in remaining ore deposits on land. These mineral resources are an attractive resource for supply of the critical metals required for modern information and green technologies, but recovery of these metals could significantly perturb the deep-ocean environment with long-lasted impact to ecosystems. The potential and risks of mining of metals from the seafloor is one focus of a new publication by the Royal Society. This Royal Society Evidence Pack has considered two classes of possible future ocean resource: metal-rich minerals, and marine genetic resources. The report will be launched at the Commonwealth Science Conference, and the findings briefly summarised in this talk.
Professor Isabelle Ansorge, University of Cape Town
Sink or Swim? – a review of South Africa’s ocean science programme: opportunities and challenges
The 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, using CMIP5 and EMIC model outputs, suggests that the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (MOC) is very likely to weaken by 11-34% over the next century, with consequences for global rainfall and temperature patterns. However, these coupled, global climate models cannot accurately resolve important oceanic features such as the Agulhas Current and its leakage around South Africa, which these studies have suggested may act to balance MOC weakening in the future. To properly understand oceanic changes and feedbacks on anthropogenic climate change we need to substantially improve global ocean observations, particularly within boundary current regions such as the Agulhas Current. The South African science community, in collaboration with governing bodies and international partners, has recently established one of the world’s most comprehensive observational networks of a western boundary current system, measuring the Greater Agulhas Current System and its inter-ocean exchanges south of Africa. This observational network, through its design for long-term monitoring, collaborative coordination of resources, and skills sharing, represents a model for the international community. This paper highlights the current status of South African ocean sciences, where opportunities lie and more importantly provides an overview of the challenges that many researchers face.
Dr Janice Lough, Australian Institute of Marine Science
A changing climate for tropical coral reefs
Tropical coral reefs are spectacular, complex and diverse ecosystems. Although occupying less than 0.5% of the sea floor (an area about the size of Kenya), they support 25% of all marine species and provide goods and services that contribute to the livelihoods of over 500 million people worldwide. Over 60% of Commonwealth countries contain coral reefs and together these make up 40% of the world’s coral reefs. Reefs are, however, in trouble. Some have suffered decades of over exploitation which is now being compounded, on even the most pristine reefs, by the impacts of a rapidly changing global climate system. This has been most dramatically demonstrated by the recent increase in frequency and extent of mass coral bleaching events – when the delicate, mutually beneficial relationship between the coral animal host and their photosynthesising algal symbionts breaks down. These recent events have been driven by unusually warm surface ocean temperatures and are a direct result of anthropogenically-driven global climate change. This talk will review how climate is already changing for coral reefs, why they are so sensitive to rapidly changing environmental conditions and the historical evidence for such changes as revealed in the annual skeletal records of certain long-lived massive corals. I will also consider what the future of these immensely valuable tropical ecosystems may look like given different trajectories of projected global warming and global and local actions that can contribute to their maintenance into the future.