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Corporate entry Molecular Biology Unit (1981 - 1996)

The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

Medical Research


The Molecular Biology Unit formed in 1981/82 and was previously known as the Molecular Biology Laboratory within the Biochemistry and Biophysics Unit. The Molecular Biology Unit was renamed the Molecular Genetics of Cancer Division in 1996/1997.


The initial research focus of the Molecular Biology Unit was the organisation and expression of immunoglobulin genes. The work soon increased to include investigations of the molecular genetics of parasites (in collaboration with the Immunoparasitology Unit) and the DNA sequences of genes which may be relevant to the oncogenesis of certain lymphoid tumours. Over the Unit's first two years, they successfully identified specific chromosome translocations including translocations of immunoglobulin genes involved in plasmacytomas of mice and Burkitt lymphomas of humans - particularly translocations activating the myc oncogene. In 1984 transgenic mice were used to research the genetic basis of lymphoid neoplasia and they developed retroviral techniques for introducing genes into the mice. By 1985/86 research expanded to examine bcr fusions to c-abl in myeloid leukaemia and other oncogenes.

From 1988 the Molecular Biology Unit examined the role of DNA-binding homeobox proteins in cellular differentiation and the development of the central nervous system. By 1990 the research covered the impact of oncogenes on haemopoietic cells and the genetic control of haemopoietic differentiation, neuronal development and morphogenetic events during early embryogenesis. The introduction of mouse gene 'knockouts' in 1993 expanded opportunities for developmental studies on blood cells, as well as neuronal and heart cells by 1995/96. This allowed examination of the action of oncogenes, tumour suppressor, homeobox and other regulatory genes

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Emily Geraghty & Annette Alafaci