I have always been passionate about biodiversity and nature conservation. As a kid I was one of the many that wanted to be a marine biologist and discover new things about our oceans and save the planet. Fortunately for me I also had a flair for science classes in school, so it wasn’t too hard to decide on what to study in university. I majored in Genetics for my undergrad because it allowed me to learn the tools and techniques of studying any lifeform I could choose, since I still hadn’t/haven’t decided on what exactly I wanted to study.
During my undergrad I was a part of a few projects working on environmental DNA or eDNA. Environmental DNA is any fragments or pieces of DNA or tissue found in the air, water, or sediment. DNA is shed from animals into the environment all the time, just like how you find pieces of your hair all over your house. We can use this DNA to see if an animal lives in or has visited the environment recently.
This opened my eyes to the possibilities made by next generation genomic techniques to improve current methods used in conservation today. It also got me excited about using these techniques in a creative way in new applications.
This led me to undergoing a Master’s degree in Zoology, though I rarely work in the zoology department. My primary supervisor is Eddy Dowle from the Gemmel group. My project is firmly in the biodiversity conservation sphere, trying to apply genetic techniques to eDNA found in freshwater streams to identify and quantify the species present in the stream. This would be a great improvement over current techniques that rely on taxonomic specialists to identify the species in a sample which can take up to 6 months to process. DNA methods could take only a week.
So far my short time in the Anatomy department has been a rewarding experience. I’ve had the opportunity to help on sampling trips to Fiordland and around Dunedin, I have worked in multiple different labs and experienced using cutting edge technology. This has set me up well for a lot of exciting future work that I can’t wait to get started on.