Susan Howitt

Professor Susan Howitt completed her PhD at ANU, working on the genetics of symbiotic nitrogen-fixing bacteria. She then changed fields, moving to the John Curtin School of Medical Research to work first on the E. coli ATP synthase and later becoming involved in a project on the GABAA receptor. Both projects used genetic approaches to address the structure and function of these proteins and this research led to her current interest in another class of membrane proteins, nutrient transporters. In 1997 Susan was appointed to a lecturing position. This has led to an increasing interest in learning and teaching and she has completed a Master in Higher Education. Her current research interests are in the area of student learning, in particular relating to conceptual learning and learning about research.

She is also the Senior Tuckwell Fellow, with responsibility for developing and coordinating a program for the Tuckwell Scholars.

Research interests

My science research interest is in how transporters function and we aim to understand their molecular mechanisms. We are using heterologous expression systems to characterize transporters and mutant variants that have been generated by site-directed mutagenesis or random methods. This allows us to test hypotheses about which regions of the transporter are important for function. Our current focus is on sulphate transporters from plants and bicarbonate transporters from cyanobacteria.

I am also interested in educational research, focusing on two related areas, learning for conceptual understanding and learning about research. The latter includes research into how students understand the nature of science and the research process and is supported by an OLT grant. We are examining learning in lab classes, courses about science and in undergraduate research projects, with the aim of enhancing learning about the nature and practice of research. By focussing on ways of thinking and practising in students' chosen discipline, we hope to better prepare students for their future careers in a complex and changing world.

Recent grants

  • TREASURE (Teaching Research: Evaluating Assessment Strategies for Undergraduate Research Projects). Funded by the Office of Learning and Teaching, 2012-2014.
  • Wilson, A, Howitt, S, Holloway, A et al. 2021, 'Factors affecting paramedicine students' learning about evidenceâ€?based practice: a phenomenographic study', BMC Medical Education, vol. 21, no. 1, pp. 12pp.
  • Higgins, D, Dennis, A et al 2019, ''Power to empower': conceptions of teaching and learning in a pedagogical co-design partnership', Higher Education Research and Development, vol. 38, no. 6, pp. 1154-1167.
  • Wilson, A & Howitt, S 2018, 'Developing critical being in an undergraduate science course', Studies in Higher Education, vol. 43, no. 7, pp. 1160-1171pp.
  • Howitt, S & Wilson, A 2018, 'Reflecting on the use and abuse of scientific data facilitates students’ ethical and epistemological development', Science Education, vol. 102, no. 3, pp. 571-592.
  • Wilson, A, Howitt, S & Higgins, D 2016, 'A fundamental misalignment: intended learning and assessment practices in undergraduate science research projects', Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 41, no. 6, pp. 869-884.
  • Wilson, A, Howitt, S & Higgins, D 2016, 'Assessing the unassessable: making learning visible in undergraduates' experiences of scientific research', Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education, vol. 41, no. 6, pp. 901-916.
  • Wilson, A, Howitt, S, Higgins, D et al 2015, 'Making Critical Thinking Visible in Undergraduates' Experiences of Scientific Research', in M Davies, R Barnett (ed.), The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Thinking in Higher Education, Palgrave Macmillan Ltd, London, pp. 491-508pp.
  • Howitt, S & Wilson, A 2015, 'Developing, expressing and contesting opinions of science: encouraging the student voice', Higher Education Research and Development, vol. 34, no. 3, pp. 541-553.
  • Howitt, S & Wilson, A 2014, 'Revisiting "Is the scientific paper a fraud?"', EMBO Reports, vol. 15, no. 5, pp. 481-484.
  • Price, G & Howitt, S 2014, 'Topology mapping to characterize cyanobacterial bicarbonate transporters: BicA (SulP/SLC26 family) and SbtA', Molecular Membrane Biology, vol. 31, no. 6, pp. 177-182.
  • Price, G & Howitt, S 2014, 'Towards turbocharged photosynthesis', Nature, vol. 513, no. 7519, pp. 497-498.
  • Du, J, Foerster, B, Rourke, L et al 2014, 'Characterisation of cyanobacterial bicarbonate transporters in E. Coli shows that SBTA homologs are functional in this heterologous expression system', PLOS ONE (Public Library of Science), vol. 9, no. 12, pp. e115905-e115905.
  • Wilson, A, Howitt, S, Roberts, P et al 2013, 'Connecting expectations and experiences of students in a research-immersive degree', Studies in Higher Education, vol. 38, no. 10, pp. 1562-1576.
  • Price, G, Pengelly, J, Forster, B, von Caemmerer, S, Badger, MR, Price, GD and Whitney, SM. 2013, 'The cyanobacterial CCM as a source of genes for improving photosynthetic CO2 fixation in crop species', Journal of Experimental Botany, vol. 64, no. 3, pp. 753-768.
  • Seymour, V, Curmi, J, Howitt, S et al 2012, 'Selective modulation of different GABA(A) receptor isoforms by diazepam and etomidate in hippocampal neurons', The International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, vol. 44, no. 9, pp. 1491-1500.
  • Wilson, A & Howitt, S 2012, 'Is More Always Better? An Australian Experiment with a Research-Intensive Undergraduate Degree', CUR Quarterly (Council of Undergraduate Research), vol. 33, no. 2, pp. 28-33.
  • Wilson, A, Howitt, S, Wilson-Goossens, K et al 2012, 'Academics' perceptions of the purpose of undergraduate research experiences in a research-intensive degree', Studies in Higher Education, vol. 37, no. 5, pp. 513-526.
  • Gruber, B, Delhaize, E, Richardson, A et al 2011, 'Characterisation of HvALMT1 function in transgenic barley plants', Functional Plant Biology, vol. 38, no. 2, pp. 163-175.
  • Price, G & Howitt, S 2011, 'The cyanobacterial bicarbonate transporter BicA: its physiological role and the implications of structural similarities with human SLC26 transporters', Biochemistry and Cell Biology, vol. 89, no. 2, pp. 178-188.
  • Price, G, Shelden, M & Howitt, S 2011, 'Membrane topology of the cyanobacterial bicarbonate transporter, SbtA, and identification of potential regulatory loops', Molecular Membrane Biology, vol. 28, no. 5, pp. 265-275.
  • Gruber, B, Ryan, P, Richardson, A et al 2010, 'HvALMT1 from barley is involved in the transport of organic anions', Journal of Experimental Botany, vol. 61, no. 5, pp. 1455-1467.
  • Henry, R, Cobbold, S, Allen, R et al 2010, 'An acid-loading chloride transport pathway in the intraerythrocytic malaria parasite, Plasmodium falciparum', Journal of Biological Chemistry, 285, 18615-18626.
  • Shelden, M, Howitt, S & Price, G 2010, 'Membrane topology of the cyanobacterial bicarbonate transporter, BicA, a member of the SulP (SLC26A) family', Molecular Membrane Biology, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 12-22.
  • Howitt, S, Wilson, A, Wilson, K et al 2010, ''Please remember we are not all brilliant':undergraduates' experiences of an elite, research-intensive degree at a research-intensive university', Higher Education Research and Development, vol. 29, no. 4, pp. 405-420.
  • Martin, R, Marchetti, R, Cowan, A et al 2009, 'Chloroquine Transport via the Malaria Parasite's Chloroquine Resistance Transporter', Science, vol. 325, pp. 1680-1682.
  • Shelden, M, Howitt, S, Kaiser, B et al 2009, 'Identification and functional characterisation of aquaporins in the grapevine, Vitis vinifera', Functional Plant Biology, vol. 36, pp. 1065-1078.
  • Kirk, K, Howitt, S, Broer, S et al 2009, 'Purine uptake in Plasmodium: transport versus metabolism', Trends in Parasitology, 25, 246-249.
  • Downie, M, Saliba, K, Broer, S et al 2008, 'Purine nucleobase transport in the intraerythrocytic malaria parasite', International Journal for Parasitology, 38, 203-209.
  • Howitt, S, Anderson, T, Costa, M et al 2008, A CONCEPT INVENTORY FOR MOLECULAR LIFE SCIENCES: HOW WILL IT HELP YOUR TEACHING PRACTICE?, Australian Biochemist.
  • Leves, F, Tierney, ML & Howitt, S 2008, 'Polar residues in a conserved motif spanning helices 1 and 2 are functionally important in the SulP transporter family', The International Journal of Biochemistry and Cell Biology, vol. 40, no. 11, pp. 2596-2605.
  • Howitt, S 2007, 'Investigation of the properties of wild type and mutant alkaline phosphatase variants: a laboratory project linking genotype and phenotype', Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, vol. 35, no. 5, pp. 350-354.
  • Wilson, A, Howitt, S & Wilson, K 2007, 'Research-led education: challenges and experiences', UniServe Science Teaching and Learning Research Conference 2007, ed. Conference Program Committee, UniServe Science, Sydney Australia, pp. 154-159.
  • Henry, R, Martin, R, Howitt, S et al 2007, 'Localisation of a candidate anion transporter to the surface of the malaria parasite', Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, vol. 363, no. 2, pp. 288-291.
  • Downie, M, Saliba, K, Howitt, S et al 2006, 'Transport of nucleosides across the Plasmodium falciparum parasite plasma membrane has characteristics of PfENT1', Molecular Microbiology, 60, 738-748.
  • Howitt, S 2005, 'The role of cysteine residues in the sulphate transporter, SHST1:Construction of a functional cysteine-less transporter', Biochimica et Biophysica Acta: International journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics, vol. 1669, no. 2, pp. 95-100.
  • Kirk, K, Martin, R, Broer, S et al 2005, 'Plasmodium permeomics: membrane transport proteins in the malaria parasite.', Current Topics in Microbiology and Immunology, vol. 295, pp. 325-56.
  • Price, G, Woodger, F, Badger, M et al 2004, 'Identification of a SulP-type bicarbonate transporter in marine cyanobacteria', PNAS - Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol. 101, no. 52, pp. 18228-18233.
  • Tierney, ML, Osborn, K, Milburn, P et al 2004, 'Phylogenetic conservation of disulfide-linked, dimeric acetylcholine receptor pentamers in southern ocean electric rays', Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 207, no. 20, pp. 3581-3590.
  • Shelden, M, Loughlin, P, Tierney, L et al. 2003, 'Interactions between Charged Amino Acid Residues within Transmembrane Helices in the Sulfate Transporter SHST1', Biochemistry, vol. 42, no. 44, pp. 12941-12949.
  • Loughlin, P, Shelden, M, Tierney, M et al 2002, 'Structure and Function of a Model Member of the SulP Transporter Family', Cell Biochemistry and Biophysics, vol. 36, no. 2-3, pp. 183-190.
  • Harris, R, Webb, D, Howitt, S et al. 2001, 'Characterization of PitA and PitB from Escherichia coli', Journal of Bacteriology, vol. 183, no. 17, pp. 5008-5014.
  • Shelden, M, Dong, B, de Bruxelles, G et al 2001, 'Arabidopsis ammonium transporters, AtAMT1;1 and AtAMT1;2, have different biochemical properties and functional roles', Plant and Soil, vol. 231, no. 1, pp. 151-160.
  • Shelden, M, Loughlin, P, Tierney, M et al 2001, 'Proline residues in two tightly coupled helices of the sulphate transporter, SHST1, are important for sulphate transport', Biochemical Journal, vol. 356, no. 2, pp. 589-594.
  • Howitt, S & Udvardi, M 2000, 'Structure, function and regulation of ammonium transporters in plants', Biochimica et Biophysica Acta: International journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics, vol. 1465, pp. 152-170.
  • Sohlenkamp, C, Shelden, M, Howitt, S et al 2000, 'Characterization of Arabidopsis AtAMT2, a novel ammonium transporter in plants', FEBS Letters, vol. 467, pp. 273-278.
  • Khurana, O, Coupland, L, Shelden, M et al 2000, 'Homologous mutations in two diverse sulphate transporters have similar effects', FEBS Letters, vol. 477, pp. 118-122.
  • Buck, D, Howitt, S & Clements, J 2000, 'NMDA Channel Gating is Influenced by a Tryptophan Residue in the M2 Domain but Calcium Permeation Is Not Altered', Biophysical Journal, vol. 79, pp. 2454-2462.

Professor Susan Howitt is an Associate Director of Education and the Deputy Head of the Biology Teaching and Learning Centre. In this capacity she has the responsibility for the mentoring of teaching-focused academics in the Research School of Biology, and supporting educational research projects. She will also supervise the ANU Hubs and Spokes (in Medical Sciences) appointee liaising with the University of South Australia and our Joint Bachelor of Medical Science. She is the College First Year Course Adviser, and represents the Research School of Biology on the various College-level committees, and she is also the Senior Tuckwell Fellow, with responsibility for developing and coordinating a program for the Tuckwell Scholars.