The inaugural Bob Symons Lecture was given by Professor Dieter Soll on the evolution of the genetic code: a work in progress, if you missed this interesting lecture you can listen to the podcast.
At the time of its elucidation the genetic code was suggested to be universal in all organisms, and the result of a ‘frozen accident’ unable to evolve further even if the current state were suboptimal. How do we see the genetic code today – 40 years after the familiar ‘alphabet’ with 20 amino acids was established? Of course, the ‘genetic code’ is the product of its interpretation by the translational machinery and it is only static as long as the components of this machinery do not evolve or are strictly conserved between organisms. Professor Soll, with over 470 scientific publications, has led the team which discovered selenocysteine and pyrrolysine, the 21st and 22nd amino acids which are directly inserted into growing polypeptides during translation. Based on the realization that protein plasticity is a feature of living cells, man-made expansion of the genetic code has begun by adding non-standard amino acids to the repertoire of the cell. Professor Soll will discuss these present evolutionary developments and how they underpin the creation of new organisms in the realm of synthetic biology.
The 3rd Bob Symons lecture is named in honour of the former Emeritus Professor in Plant Science at the Waite. Professor Symons had a long and distinguished career with the University of Adelaide, joining the University in 1962. The main research by Professor Symons between 1962 and 1990 in the Department of Biochemistry focused upon understanding the structure and function of viral nucleic acids in relation to infectivity and the development of plant disease. However, he also contributed significantly to the understanding of protein synthesis and ribozyme activity. Professor Symons was also responsible for commercial applications of his research leading to the establishment of the first Australian company to produce and market molecular biological for research. In 1991, Professor Symons moved his research to the Waite Campus where he focused upon viral diseases of grapevine and established Waite Diagnostics which still provides a service to grape growers in the diagnosis and control of grapevine pathogens. He retired in 2002 due to ill health and passed away in October 2006.