The next time you see catwalk or magazine models sporting magnificent South Sea pearls, it’s possible that their jewellery may have benefited from a unique industry-university collaboration.

The 10-year partnership between The University of Queensland and Autore, aims to ensure that the Australian pearl industry maintains its premier position in the international market.

UQ has recognised the collaboration to increase the consistent production of ultra-high quality South Sea pearls at an awards ceremony tonight (September 13) at Brisbane Customs House.

Professor Bernie Degnan of UQ’s School of Biological Sciences and General Manager, Autore Pearling Pty Ltd – one of the largest South Sea pearl companies in the world - Mr Patrick Moase have received a University of Queensland Partners in Research Excellence Award (PIREA) for 2016.

The award was one of several PIREAs for outstanding industry-UQ collaborations that benefit industry and the community.

Watch an interview about the UQ-Autore partnership.

Professor Degnan said the research, which had been supported by three ARC Linkage projects, aimed to collaborate and achieve commercial gains for the pearl industry using evidence-based research.

“The process of pearl formation has been well understood for many years, but before this project, little was known about the molecular genetics underlying pearl and shell formation in the oyster and other molluscs,” he said.

“Traditionally people have used selective breeding programs to increase pearl quality in Australia and elsewhere, but this approach is expensive, cumbersome and requires a long-term commitment.

“Our partnership has resulted in improved farming practices, and more excitingly, by using advanced genomic tools we now have the means to readily distinguish which animals will give rise to commercially better pearls, potentially increasing productivity 10-fold.

“Genomic techniques have changed dramatically over the past decade of the partnership and are allowing us to achieve the original vision for the project.”

Mr Rosario Autore, the Autore Group’s CEO, said in addition to vision and commitment, the research was also highly innovative and likely to transform the pearling industry.

“The research and development partnership has progressively built knowledge of the basic physiological and molecular processes to genetically screen broodstock to become tissue donors or host oysters for pearl cultivation,” he said.

“Knowledge of the genetic processes underlying pearl formation is of great importance to the pearl industry.

“Our research collaboration with UQ has made significant inroads into understanding the relationship between gene expression and pearl characteristics.

“Our confidence with the research and more so the fantastic relationship we have developed with Professor Degnan and his team has meant there is real promise with actual commercialisation of this IP.”

The awards ceremony was part of UQ Research Week which aims to raise awareness of UQ research across key stakeholders.

Professor Degnan received a further $5000 award for further development of the partnership.

The awards were presented by UQ Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Peter Høj, the CEO of the University’s main commercialisation company, Uniquest, Dr Dean Moss, and UQ Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) and Vice-President (Research) Professor Robyn Ward AM.

Media: Professor Bernie Degnan, UQ, b.degnan@uq.edu.au, +61 7 3365 2467 or Rosario Autore, Autore, rosario@pearlautore.com.au, +61 2 9285 2222

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