'My interest in Australian marsupials was a complete accident! A lot of things happen by accident.'
Professor Jenny Graves got enthusiastic about genetics in her final year of school; she marvelled at rules and patterns, the clear signs of genetics sorting themselves out. “My interest in Australian marsupials was a complete accident!” she laughs. Jenny very nearly pursued research into a tiny insect called the gall midge when, during her honours year, a messy accident at Werribee Sewerage Farm lead her to abandon the tiny little insect.
In an effort to avoid the gall midge at all costs, she wondered if the mechanism that inactivates the X chromosome in female humans and mice would be true for kangaroos. She found that it was. “So that’s what got me into both kangaroos and into sex chromosomes,” she says. “A lot of things happen by accident.”
Now a Distinguished Professor and Vice Chancellor’s Fellow at LaTrobe University, Jenny’s research career has been dedicated to working on sex chromosomes, looking at the pattern of the inheritance of genes, and how the genome evolved during mammal evolution. She is also (in)famous for her prediction that the human Y chromosome is disappearing, and has been recognised for her inquiry, being the first woman to be awarded solo the Prime Minister's Prize for Science in 2017.
“Science is the most creative thing I know,” says Jenny, “It’s about thinking up interesting explanations, and new ways to trick nature into revealing itself.” Her intellectual creativity pushes her to ask big picture questions when pursuing a hypothesis. “I’d like to know what the earliest form of biogenome was. Because I suspect we’ve actually got it all upside down.” She suspects the answers will lead to big changes in scientific thinking. “I think we are actually going to get the data very soon.”