Professor John Shine AO FAA, Executive Director of Sydney's Garvan Institute of Medical Research, received the 2010 Prime Minister's Prize for Science, the nation's most highly respected award for scientific achievement, in Parliament House tonight.
The prize is awarded for 'an outstanding specific achievement or series of related achievements in any area of science advancing human welfare or benefiting society'.
Professor Shine is world-renowned for a series of discoveries he made between 1975 and 1985 that furthered our understanding of how genes are turned into the proteins that do the work in cells. He also developed sophisticated gene cloning techniques that helped revolutionise the world of biotechnology.
As an honours student at Canberra's Australian National University (ANU), he uncovered the mechanism behind termination of protein synthesis in mammals, insects and bacteria. A discovery he describes as "not very sexy", it nonetheless showed us how ribosomes tiny structures in cells that translate genetic code into functional proteins know exactly where to snip a long and complex string of amino acids to release a protein into a cell.
Perhaps best known for the 'Shine-Dalgarno Sequence', his PhD discovery that also bears the name of his supervisor at ANU, Lyn Dalgarno, Shine found the sequence in messenger RNA (the working copy of a gene) that ribosomes recognise to initiate and control the efficiency of protein synthesis in bacteria. A landmark finding, today's sophisticated genome annotation software still uses it to help identify start points of protein synthesis.
Shine was the first person to clone a human hormone gene human placental lactogen and played a major role in cloning the insulin and growth hormone genes. In the process, he developed several ingenious methods of 'cloning', or extricating single genes (a few thousand out of 3.2 billion nucleotides on each strand of DNA) for replication in bacteria.
Professor Shine became Director of Garvan in 1990, when gene cloning was starting to have a big impact in medical research. Since then he has held countless influential scientific advisory roles, including Chairman of the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) from 2003-2006 and Vice President (Biological Sciences) Australian Academy of Science from 2002-2007.
"Winning the Prime Minister's Science Prize is an enormous honour," said Professor Shine.
"Most pleasing though is that the Prize itself is a recognition of the importance that government and the community places on science and its role in the social and economic well being of our country."