Virtual Pre-Symposium Session Presenters
Professor Anthony Capon
Director, Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University
Planetary health: shaping the future of rural and remote health
By most measures, human health is better now than at any time in human history. However, these gains in human health have been unequally distributed and have come at the high price of degradation of natural systems on a scale never before seen. Published in 2015, The Rockefeller Foundation–Lancet Commission on Planetary Health report Safeguarding human health in the Anthropocene epoch concludes that the continuing degradation of natural systems threatens to reverse the health gains seen over the last century. Anthropogenic global changes—including climate change, ocean acidification, land degradation, water scarcity, biodiversity loss and toxic pollution of air, water and ecosystems—have direct and indirect health impacts. The consequences for future health are far-reaching, ranging from increasing emergence of zoonotic diseases, food insecurity and malnutrition, to conflict and displacement. Those who are least responsible for driving these changes—poor people in developing countries—will be most vulnerable to their consequences. Put simply, planetary health is the health of human civilisation and the state of the natural systems on which it depends. In this presentation, Professor Capon will introduce the findings of the Commission and canvass their implications for the future of rural and remote health.
Professor Pierre Horwitz
Professor of Environmental Sciences, School of Natural Sciences, Edith Cowan University
Environmental alliances for regional health (and sustainability)
Pierre Horwitz is a Professor at Edith Cowan University in Western Australia and Director of its Centre for Ecosystem Management.
For the last 30 years his research and teaching have included an ecosystems approach to the relationships between biodiversity, culture and human health and well-being, with a particular interest in wetlands and water resource management in Australia.
Pierre has held an appointment for the Ramsar International Convention on Wetlands as Theme Coordinator for Wetlands and Health on its Scientific and Technical Review Panel 2009–15, during which time he also worked with the Convention for Biological Diversity and the World Health Organization. He is a former Director of Bush Heritage Australia, President of the Australian Freshwater Sciences Society (1999–2001), and co-founder of the International Association for Ecology and Health.
Pierre is currently working with colleagues in Fijian rural communities to investigate watershed-based interventions for health systems. In Australia his current projects include the ecological characteristics of Nyoongar songlines, locating loss of values from the effects of climate change in rural and regional communities, and predicting the effects of fire on water quality in water catchments.
Dr Laura Weyrich
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Pennsylvania State University
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander microbiome reflects long term connection to country
Dr Weyrich obtained a PhD from The Pennsylvania State University in 2012 and began a post-doctoral research appointment at the University of Adelaide, in the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA.
Using her medical expertise, she helped establish calcified dental plaque (calculus) as the only fossil record of human microbiome in existence, and linked ancient and historic changes in human microbial communities to large shifts in health and disease.
In 2015, Dr Weyrich obtained a prestigious Australian Research Council DECRA fellowship, aimed at reconstructing the diversity of human microbiota around the world, including working with Indigenous people to reconstruct the microbiota from their ancestors. She became the first person to reconstruct a microbiome from an extinct species, Neandertals, and has reassembled the oldest microbial genome to date—at 48,000 years old.
In 2018, she was again recognised for her work on human oral microbiomes when she received an ARC Future Fellowship to investigate how industrialisation affected our microbes and health in the past and today.
As an Associate Professor at Penn State, she now directs the Penn State Ancient Biomolecules Research Environment (PSABRE)—one of the largest ancient DNA labs in North America—and leads a research team focused on understanding how and why microbial communities change over time in the human body and the environment.
She has received over $5 million in research funding, 21 awards for research excellence, and given over 50 guest lectures on the topic. Her research has been featured by the BBC, NPR, Science, Nature, New Scientist, NY Times, Smithsonian Magazine, National Geographic, and many others, and has been highlighted on Catalyst and a SBS documentary entitled 'Life on Us'. She has even had a Buzz Feed quiz written about her research. Her commitment to understanding how beneficial, friendly microorganisms contribute to disease, and how they shape the world around us, is changing how we view the human health today.