Katherine Belov

Katherine Belov
Born 1973 (age 4243)
Sydney, Australia
Academic background
Alma mater Macquarie University
Academic work
Institutions The University of Sydney
Main interests geneticists
Notable works facial tumor research on the Tasmanian devils

Katherine Belov (born 1973) is an Australian geneticist, and professor of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney. She is a specialist in the research on the cancer which is devastating the Tasmanian devil population. Throughout her career, she has disproved a theory concerning genetic diversity of marsupial immune systems, characterized the South American gray short-tailed opossum's immune genes, participated in the Platypus Genome Project, led research identifying the properties of platypus venom, and identified the cause of the spread of the Tasmanian devil's contagious cancer.


Katherine Belov was born in Sydney, Australia in 1973 to Nick and Larissa Belov. Both of her parents were immigrants to Australia and of Russian heritage. Belov grew up in West Ryde, New South Wales and pursued her undergraduate degree at Macquarie University in human genetics. She was persuaded to change from human genetics to animal genetics by Professor Des Cooper who would become her PhD supervisor, and initially worked on grey kangaroos, but quickly changed to the study of marsupials. She challenged a theory by another researcher who believed that marsupials did not have a highly developed immune system and proved that they had sophisticated immune systems comparable to our own. The research inspired her to enroll in a Phd program[1] on marsupial immunology at Macquarie University.[2] She earned her PhD in 2002, and began her postdoctoral work at the Australian Museum with an Australian Research Council Fellowship.[3]

In 2004, as part of the team, Belov became one of the primary researchers to sequence the genome of the platypus. The results, involving the work of over 100 international scientists, were published in Nature in May 2008. Among the findings were that the platypus has unique anti-microbial peptides with broad-spectrum potential for fighting a variety of bacteria and viruses, and possibly staph infections in humans.[1] Belov's research continued and she now leads her own team of researchers from the University of Sydney, they began to characterise the platypus venom, which has no antivenom and causes severe pain to humans. They were able to complete the analysis in 18 months, verifying seven snake-like zinc metalloproteinases, seven toxins similar to the alpha-latrotoxins of black widow spiders, six cysteine-rich secretory proteins (CRISPs) like those found in some lizards and gila monsters, as well as some minor components similar to those of sea anemone venom.[4]

In 2007, Belov accepted a lectureship position at the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney[3] and began to focus on the contagious cancer, which started spreading through the Tasmanian devil population in 1996.[5] She proposed that the problem was that devils lack major histocompatibility complex gene diversity.[1] Belov proved her hypothesis, that devils do not mount an immune response to the cancer because the tumor's genetic makeup is so similar to their own.[6]

Belov became a full Professor of Comparative Genomics at the University of Sydney and has received an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow award to[7] continue her research in identifying genes, not only for devils and platypi, but for other native Australian species like skinks and wallabies.[8] In 2014, she was awarded the Fenner Medal for research in biology from the Australian Academy of Science.[9]

In 2016, she was appointed to the new role of Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Global Engagement) at the University of Sydney.[10] Professor Belov's new role includes responsibility for managing the development and execution of the University’s global engagement strategy.


  1. 1 2 3 Dow, Steve (21 March 2010). "Saint among devils". Sydney, Australia: Steve Dow Journalist. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  2. http://www.abc.net.au/acedayjobs/cooljobs/profiles/s2599887.htm
  3. 1 2 "Us-Australian Academies Joint Workshop on Vertebrate Comparative Genomics". Sydney, Australia: Australian Academy of Science. 25 May 2007. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  4. O'Neill, Graeme (19 July 2011). "Feature: Platypus venom spurs drug discovery". Wahroonga, Australia: Life Scientist. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  5. Ballance, Alison (5 May 2015). "A Devilish Cancer - Tasmanian Devil Facial Tumour Disease". Wellington, New Zealand: Radio New Zealand. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  6. Fessenden, Marissa (18 March 2013). "Is Cancer Contagious? Could Hugo Chávez Have Been Deliberately Infected?". New York, NY: Scientific American. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  7. "Guest Speaker - Professor Katherine Belov". Adelaide, Australia: The University of Adelaide. 2013. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  8. "Cool Jobs Profile: Kathy Belov Age: 35". Sydney, Australia: Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  9. "Awardees for 2014". Sydney, Australia: Australian Academy of Science. 2014. Retrieved 11 November 2015.
  10. http://sydney.edu.au/news-opinion/news/2016/02/01/professor-katherine-belov-to-lead-global-engagement-strategy.html

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