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Inspiring Science: Infectious Math and Mean Plants
Inspiring Australia and Ultimo Library bring you the latest developments in science, presented by award-winning researchers.
Discover how mathematics can help predict patterns in infectious diseases with Dr Deborah Cromer and why the meanest plants are the most capable of protecting themselves against plant-eating animals and tough conditions with PhD candidate Floret Meredith.
Have you ever wondered how your body fights disease, why one person might get sick but another person doesn’t or how a disease is transmitted in the population? Would you be surprised to discover that mathematics has something to do with this? Dr Deborah Cromer uses mathematical models to answer fundamental questions about infectious diseases and to provide advice on how to vaccinate against many of them. From HIV and malaria to mumps and flu, maths is a fundamental weapon in the fight against infectious diseases.
Plants must protect themselves against a world full of plant-eating animals and tough environmental conditions. The harder life is, the meaner plants get. Ecologists have long predicted that in the absence of herbivore enemies, island plants would ditch their defences. It was thought that as a result, island plants would be helpless against herbivores introduced to islands. But PhD candidate Floret Meredith compared the defences of island-based and mainland plants and found that this idea – which is more than 150 years old – had no basis in fact. She further explains how plants protect themselves, how these traits can change, and how her research contradicts a fundamental idea in ecological theory.
Dr Deborah Cromer is a post-doctoral researcher in the Infection Analytics program at the Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales. She completed her PhD at Imperial College, London, and worked at the University of Oxford and the Health Protection Agency in the UK before joining the Infection Analytics group. She uses mathematics to help understand infection and immunity in malaria, HIV, flu, rotavirus, and mumps, as well as other common diseases.
Floret Meredith is a PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales. She runs workshops through UNSW’s Gerric program for gifted students and volunteers with CSIRO's Scientists in Schools program. She also discussed plant defences on SBS’s The Feed in 2015. Meredith was a winner in the joint Ecological Society of Australia and Office of Environment and Heritage 2015 Student Outreach competition. Her research was recently showcased at the Australian Museum and UNSW Wild Researchers exhibition. Her research interests include plant ecology, plant defence, biogeography, ecological function and trophic cascades.
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