Jenny Graves made seminal contributions to the understanding of mammalian genome organization and evolution, exploiting the genetic diversity of Australia's unique animals as a source of genetic variation to study highly conserved genetic structures and processes. Her studies of the chromosomes and genes of kangaroos and platypus, devils (Tasmanian) and dragons (lizards) has shed light on the organisation, function and evolution of mammalian genomes, and led to influential new theories of the origin and evolution of human sex chromosomes and sex determining genes. She is (in)famous for her prediction that the human Y chromosome is disappearing. She made critical discoveries that the epigenetic silencing of mammalian X chromosomes occurred by transcriptional inhibition, and is mediated by DNA methylation. Her recent work, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Canberra, explores epigenetics and sex determination, using reptile models that have sex chromosomes, but undergo sex reversal at high temperatures.
Jenny has been involved in international comparative gene mapping and sequencing projects since the mid-1980s, promulgating the value of comparative genomics and the special value of including distantly related species. She initiated projects to sequence the genomes of marsupials and the platypus, and was Foundation Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Kangaroo Genomics. She is a Trustee of the international Genome 10K consortium that aims to sequence every vertebrate.
Jenny received a BSc Hons and MSc from the University of Adelaide for work on the epigenetic silencing of one X chromosome in female marsupials. She then used a Fulbright Travel Grant to do a PhD in molecular biology at the University of California, Berkeley, which she received in 1971 for her work on the control of DNA synthesis in mammalian cells. In 1971, she returned to Australia as a lecturer in Genetics at La Trobe University, becoming a Professor in 1991. In 2001 she moved to the Research School of Biological Sciences, Australian National University as head of the Comparative Genomics Research Unit and Director of the ARC Centre for Excellence in Kangaroo Genomics. She has recently returned to Melbourne as Distinguished Professor at La Trobe University, but also holds honorary positions at ANU, the University of Canberra and the University of Melbourne.
Jenny has published more than 430 scientific works, including 4 books. She was elected a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1999 and served on the Academy Executive, first as Foreign Secretary, then as Secretary for Education. She is 2006 L’Oreal-UNESCO Laureate, and has received many awards for her work, including the MacFarlane Burnet Medal for research in biology, and an AO.
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