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Navigating Genetic Futures: He waka eke noa

Navigating Genetic Futures: He waka eke noa brings together world-leading researchers invested in the research, education and sharing of how genetics technology affects our communities.

Should we embrace, or fear, genetic technologies?

Genetic technologies have permeated many areas important to New Zealand’s overall well-being: our health, environment, and primary production.

There are many important questions:

  • What are the risks?
  • What is acceptable and what is not?
  • Who makes the decisions?

The speed at which new gene-based technologies are developing means that we need to increase society’s engagement and understanding of both the technology and people’s viewpoints if we are to make fully informed decisions, and take timely advantage of new opportunities.

Involving the community in the genetics debate

 Navigating Future Genetics recognises the need for better community engagement, education and information gathering.

We are seeking to establish a Centre of Research Excellence (CoRE) to meet this need.

Navigating Future Genetics team

Our team leading this initiative are:

Professor Lisa Matisoo-Smith, Director

Professor Lisa Matisoo-SmithLisa Matisoo-Smith is a FRSNZ, FSA, Professor of Biological Anthropology, is trained in four-field anthropology and molecular genetics.

In 2018 Lisa was awarded the Mason Durie Medal, given to 'the nation's pre-eminent social scientist' in recognition of her “ground-breaking work that has, through strong relationships with New Zealand's indigenous people, reshaped our understanding of the last great human migration into the Pacific.”

Lisa has a long history of community-engaged genetic research in New Zealand and the Pacific and a track record of outreach and community education. She was the Principal Investigator for the Pacific region in National Geographic’s Genographic project.

In 2013 she was awarded a James Cook Fellowship to undertake a collaborative project with National Geographic entitled from Africa to Aotearoa: The longest journey, in which she studied the genetic ancestry of over 2000 New Zealanders to better understand the diversity of our communities and to engage the public in genetic research. This project was extended into schools through two MBIE Curious Minds grants which involved providing DNA test kits to 200 biology teachers in low-decile and rural schools across the country. Through this project Lisa spearheaded the development of teacher and class resources to help teach about DNA, human evolution, migration, ancestry and diversity to students in both sciences and social sciences.

Professor Neil Gemmell, Deputy Director

Professor Neil Gemmell thumbNeil Gemmell is an outstanding geneticist and teacher committed to public engagement and outreach. He is a multi-award-winning researcher with a long and established record of using genetic information and tools for conservation of both our terrestrial and aquatic environments. His recent community engagement project, an eDNA investigation of Loch Ness generated huge media interest reaching a potential audience of over 16 billion.

Professor Julia Horsfield, Deputy Director

Julia Horsfield thumbJulia Horsfield is also a very accomplished geneticist and teacher. She is the Scientific Director of Genetics Otago, a University of Otago Research Centre comprising more than 300 members. The Centre includes a large number of students and early career researchers who will be part of the future genetics workforce we plan to develop.

Our research team extends across numerous disciplines and institutions:
Navigating Genetic Futures investigators

Navigating Genetic Futures aspirations

This whakataukī (traditional Māori proverb) articulates our aspirations:

Mā te rongo, ka mōhio, Through listening, comes awareness,
Mā te mōhio, ka mārama, From awareness comes understanding,
Mā te mārama, ka matau, Through understanding comes knowledge,
Mā te matau, ka ora! Through knowledge comes life and wellbeing!

Fern with koru image